Palestinian militants leave Cyprus for ‘temporary’ exile in EU states

LARNACA – Under tight security, 12 Palestinian militants exiled by Israel left Cyprus yesterday aboard two European planes bound for six EU nations that have agreed to offer them temporary asylum. Eleven of the militants, expelled under a deal that ended Israel’s siege at the Church of the Nativity, boarded a bus outside the beachfront hotel where they were confined since May 10, for a short ride to Larnaca airport. They traveled surrounded by a tight security cordon of Cypriot anti-terror police, dressed in black or camouflage and with dogs sniffing for explosives. Another Palestinian, Mohammed Said, rode in an ambulance after he had been hospitalized overnight with a stomach ulcer. As the car parked next to an Italian executive jet, Said was helped out by a Cypriot policeman and a nurse and escorted to the plane to Italy with two other Palestinians. The plane departed shortly afterward. The Palestinians waved a Palestinian flag from the bus and flashed V-for-victory signs. After disembarking from the bus, the Palestinians hugged and kissed each other goodbye. Nine of them left aboard a Spanish military aircraft and three left aboard the Italian plane. One of them, Jihad Jaara, whose leg had been broken by an Israeli sniper bullet, was walking on crutches. On the tarmac, the Palestinian representative to Cyprus, Samir Abu Ghazaleh, bid farewell to the men. A 13th Palestinian, Abdullah Daoud, 41, head of the Palestinian intelligence service in Bethlehem and the most senior among the militants, will stay behind in Cyprus until an EU member accepts him. Under a deal approved Tuesday, Spain and Italy will each take three, Greece and Ireland will each take two, and Portugal and Belgium will each accept one. Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides told reporters at the airport that Daoud, whom he described as the most «cooperative» among the 13, will most probably remain on the island for several weeks until «it is demonstrated that the 12 are absorbed well in the countries that have agreed to take them, and that could prompt one of the six nations to take the 13th Palestinian or for another EU nation to take him.» He said who went where will remain «classified» for the time being. While in Cyprus, Daoud will enjoy the same status as the other men in EU nations, Cassoulides said. Cassoulides said because of the proximity of Cyprus to the Middle East, it would be «unwise» for Cyprus to offer any Palestinian asylum. Since the 1970s, there have been several cases of Israelis and Palestinians killing each other’s agents in Cyprus. The EU said in a statement the 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,» the statement said. EU officials did not say what would happen after that period. The Palestinians will not be allowed to leave their host countries. Speaking to Spanish radio station RAC 1, EU Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos said on Tuesday the 13 will be able to work or study in the EU countries that accept them. «They won’t be detained, not at all. They will have freedom, although they will be under a certain control,» he said, without elaborating. Portugal, Italy and Greece said the whereabouts of the militants would be kept secret. Of the 13, three are members of Hamas, a militant group advocating a strict version of Islam. Most belong to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group. Both Hamas and Al-Aqsa are responsible for most of the 60 suicide bombings that have killed dozens of Israelis since the current bout of Palestinian-Israeli violence began nearly 20 months ago. They were among about 200 Palestinians, including several dozen gunmen, who ran into the Bethlehem church on April 2 to flee Israeli troops advancing as part of a major offensive in the West Bank following a wave of suicide bombings in Israel. A brief profile of the Bethlehem 13 LARNACA (AFP) – Here is a list of the 12 Palestinian militants who left for exile in European countries yesterday under a deal brokered by the EU, after an 11-day stay in Cyprus. Diplomatic sources said a 13th, Abdullah Daoud, would stay behind on the Mediterranean island for the time being. Daoud, born in 1962, was head of Palestinian intelligence services in Bethlehem. He is accused by Israel of masterminding several anti-Israel attacks, selling weapons and sheltering other militants who fired on the Jewish settlement of Gilo near Jerusalem. The other 12 are: – Ibrahim Mussa Abayat, b. 1973, accused of leading armed bands in Bethlehem and being a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an extremist offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group. Israel also charges Abayat with firing mortars on Gilo and killing three Israelis, including an intelligence officer. – Jihad Jaara, b. 1971, accused by Israel of being a Fatah militant and of attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, notably in Gilo, despite being a Palestinian security officer. -Mohammad Said Atallah Salem, b. 1979, accused of being a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and planning two suicide bombings in March. – Khaled Abou Nejme, member of the Palestinian intelligence service. – Rami al-Kamel, member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. – Mohammad Muhanna, member of the Palestinian intelligence service. – Aanan Khamiss, Fatah member. – Khalil Abdallah, Fatah member. – Ahmad Hamamra, Fatah member. – Ibrahim Mohammad Salem Abayat, b. 1961, of the same family as Ibrahim Mussa Abayat, is accused of Fatah membership and carrying out terrorist acts. -Aziz Jubran, b. 1971, accused of belonging to the radical Islamic group Hamas and of manufacturing weapons. – Mamduh Al-Wardiyyan, accused of being a Hamas member. Spain and Italy have agreed to take in three Palestinians each, Greece and Ireland two each, while Portugal and Belgium will each take one. Who goes where is officially secret, but Italian press reports yesterday said Italy was taking in Ibrahim Mohammad Salem Abayat, Mohammad Said Atallah Salem and Khaled Abou Nejme.