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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
EU stalls on Bethlehem militants
Two of Palestinians chat on the balcony of their hotel room in Larnaca, Cyprus
The militants are still waiting to know their destination
The European Union has put off a decision on which countries will take in 13 Palestinian militants allowed by Israel to go into exile following the end of the stand-off at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.


The issue of the legal status of the men is proving difficult to settle.

EU diplomat
A decision is now expected within a week, a EU diplomat said after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

Under a deal brokered last week, the militants were flown to Cyprus in return for Israel lifting the siege and withdrawing from the town.

But Cyprus says it is only offering temporary sanctuary and no final destination has yet been agreed.

Possible hosts

"The issue of the legal status of the men is proving difficult to settle," the diplomat told reporters.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique (L), whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, chats with newly-appointed French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin
EU ministers made no decision
He added that the Palestinians' fate would be discussed by ambassadors from the 15 member countries.

"Six countries - Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal - have signalled a willingness to receive the Palestinians, but the others have also not ruled out completely taking part," the diplomat said.

The BBC's Tim Franks in Brussels says the affair has been a huge diplomatic bungle - initially the plan was for Italy to take them all but no-one told the Italian Government.

'Undertakings'

The militants, described by Israel as "senior terrorists", were confined to the Flamingo hotel in the Cypriot resort of Larnaca after the government agreed to give them temporary sanctuary.

Security
Security is tight at he Flamingo hotel
Hotel manager Antonis Josifides told the BBC the 13 were taking meals separately from the rest of the guests and had caused no inconvenience.

Exiling all of them to the same destination is reported to have now been ruled out for security reasons.

As British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said, these men have left the Middle East voluntarily and given "undertakings" about good behaviour.

Another British diplomat told the BBC there was nothing to stop them spending a summer on the Italian Riviera and then getting the next flight back to the Middle East.

No country can detain the men against their will unless they put them through some sort of judicial process.

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said on Friday that Israel reserved the right to demand their extradition.

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 ON THIS STORY
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"As a result of the work of the EU, the Bethlehem standoff has now ended"
See also:

12 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem Christians give thanks
13 May 02 | Middle East
New blow to Mid-East peace prospects
12 May 02 | Middle East
Israel sends Gaza reservists home
11 May 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Bethlehem clean-up
11 May 02 | Middle East
Church emerges unharmed from siege
10 May 02 | Middle East
Gaza gives militants hero's welcome
10 May 02 | Middle East
No winners from siege deal
10 May 02 | Middle East
In pictures: End of Bethlehem siege
10 May 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Calm end to siege
09 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem siege: Inside the negotiations
09 May 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Bethlehem siege
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