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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Bethlehem exiles 'no threat' to hosts
Ibrahim Abayat, Jihad Jaara, Khalil Abdallah, Mamduh Nawawreh, Mohammad Said, Rami al-Kamel, Ahmad Hamamreh, Aziz Abayat, Ibrahim Abayat, Abdallah Daoud, Aanan Khamis, Khaled Abu Nejmeh
Twelve of the 13 militants
A leader of the group of Palestinian militants about to be flown into exile in western Europe from Cyprus says the men pose no threat to their future host countries.


They are democracies which respect human rights. Why would we have anything against them

Exiled militant Abdullah Daoud
"Our new countries should have no fears. We are normal, civilised people," said Abdullah Daoud, who was Yasser Arafat's intelligence chief in Bethlehem.

"We will respect the law in each of those states. They are democracies which respect human rights. Why would we have anything against them?" he told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Israel calls the men "senior terrorists" and besieged them and 200 other civilians, clergy and gunman in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for almost 40 days before agreeing their exile.

Distribution of militants
Spain - 3
Italy - 3
Greece - 2
Ireland - 2
Belgium - 1
Portugal - 1
Undecided - 1
The EU offered to take the militants in a deal also supported by the US and the Vatican, but they have waited in limbo in Cyprus while arrangements about how they are to be distributed were decided.

A Spanish plane is arriving in Cyprus on Tuesday, and is expected to depart with 12 of the militants on board the next day.

It will fly to Athens and then Rome, dropping off five of the passengers, before returning to Madrid from where the remaining men will make the last leg of their journeys.

A thirteenth Palestinian will stay behind in Cyprus until agreement on where he should be taken is reached. It is not known which of the 13 he is.

Holiday island limbo

The militants have been staying in a hotel in the city of Larnaca since leaving the West Bank on 10 May.

They are expected to be designated by the EU as "free men on humanitarian grounds" but are likely to be kept under police surveillance. Permission to travel to other EU countries will not be allowed, according to Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique.

Israeli soldier in Manger Square
The church stand-off lasted almost 40 days
After several days of negotiations, Mr Pique said on Monday that the EU had finally reached a deal.

EU foreign ministers have decided that none of the 13 should face arrest. Israel says it reserves the right to demand the men's extradition although European officials say they have received assurances from Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that extradition will not be sought.

The men will also be entitled to reunification with their families at a later date.

Diplomatic coup

Most of the 13 are members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, though there are three members of the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Both groups have claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that have killed scores of Israeli civilians in the past 20 months of conflict.

The resolution of the Bethlehem siege has been seen as a diplomatic coup for the EU, whose interventions in the Middle East have tended to be overshadowed by the United States.

But Palestinian critics say the deal sets a dangerous precedent, playing into the hands of the hardline Israeli policy of "transfer" or expulsion of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to establish a Greater Israel for Jews alone.

Palestinian officials say the exiles may eventually be allowed to return to their homeland as part of a negotiated final settlement with Israel.

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The BBC's Chris Morris reports from Brussels
"The 13 Palestinian militants are still in Cyprus"

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20 May 02 | Middle East
19 May 02 | Middle East
10 May 02 | Middle East
10 May 02 | Middle East
10 May 02 | Middle East
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