NEWS

Deal on Palestinians

MADRID (AFP) – European Union president Spain said yesterday the European Union had agreed to a deal on who would take in 13 exiled Palestinian militants after more than a week of wrangling. But Cyprus, an EU candidate which is currently hosting the 13, insisted it had not agreed to take in one of the men, dubbed hardened militants by Israel. The fate of the 13, among more than 100 Palestinians who spent five weeks under siege by the Israeli army in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, set off intense diplomatic negotiations. The Spanish Foreign Ministry said Spain and Italy would each take in three of the men, while Greece and Ireland would take two each. Portugal and Belgium would each take one, it said. The decision will bring relief to EU leaders who risked seeing their diplomatic triumph in ending the siege spoiled by the reluctance of member states to host the men. The ministry said the one Palestinian remaining in Cyprus – where all the militants were flown 10 days ago while a deal was agreed upon – would stay on the Mediterranean island. But the Cypriot government spokesman said later that there was no deal with Cyprus over the remaining militant and that discussions over his fate continued. «There is no confirmation of anything about Cyprus,» government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou told AFP. «The 12 will proceed to leave, while the other one will stay for… a few more days.» «Nobody is suggesting he should stay here permanently, there are just some practical details that need solving,» he said, adding that he was unaware which Palestinian was still looking for a host country. Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said yesterday 12 of the militants should start leaving by tomorrow. The Palestinian representative in Nicosia, Samir Abu Ghazaleh, voiced regrets yesterday that the 13 would be split up between several countries and said the issue was not yet fully resolved. Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, did not say when the militants would leave for their destinations or what would happen to them on arrival. The 13 men were flown to Cyprus on a British air force plane more than a week ago and have since been held at a hotel in the southern coastal town of Larnaca.