2 Palestinian exiles due in Athens today

A Spanish military plane was expected to bring two Palestinian militants to Greece today to begin their exile as part of a deal in which EU countries will take in 12 men and Cyprus, a candidate for EU membership, will take in the 13th member of the group that Israel has described as terrorists. Under a deal agreed upon by EU ministers on the Greek island of Myconos on Monday, Spain and Italy will each take in three men, Greece and Ireland will each take two, while Belgium, Portugal and Cyprus will each take one. All 13 have been on Cyprus for nearly two weeks, following a 39-day siege by Israeli forces of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Israel allowed the 13 – whom it considered the most dangerous of those who had sought refuge in the church – to leave for exile in the EU. «It was agreed (on Monday) that the two Palestinians who will be hosted by our country will be free,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said yesterday. «They will not be in detention. Of course, they will have protection – for their own safety – which is necessary in such cases. If an issue of extradition is raised, it will be dealt with in unison by the 15 of the EU as a major political issue,» he added. Asked by a reporter how Israel described the two (as yet unidentified) Palestinians who will be staying in Greece, Protopappas said: «We can’t go into such issues now.» In a statement, the EU said one militant would remain in Cyprus until an EU country can be found to take him in. The other 12 would stay in their host nations «on a temporary basis and exclusively on humanitarian grounds.» «Each of the member states… shall provide the Palestinians it receives with a national permit to enter its territory and stay for a period of up to 12 months.» EU officials did not say what would happen after that. Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis said the Palestinians will receive temporary residence permits in their host countries but not political asylum and will not be allowed to travel to other EU nations. Other details will be dealt with according to each country’s national laws.