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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 01:59 GMT 02:59 UK
EU 'strikes deal' on militants
Two of the 13 exiled Palestinian militants in Cyprus
The Palestinians are awaiting a deal on their exile
The European Union is reported to have agreed which states will take in the 13 Palestinian militants sent into exile after the end of the Bethlehem siege.

Twelve will be taken in by EU member states, while the thirteenth will remain in Cyprus, where the men have been held temporarily, Spanish diplomats are reported as saying.

Palestinian militants leave the Church of the Nativity
The EU helped broker the agreement that ended the Bethlehem standoff
Spain and Italy will each take three of the militants, Greece and Ireland will take two each, Portugal and Finland will take one each, and one will stay in Cyprus, according to the reports.

Spain - which currently holds the EU presidency - finally brokered the agreement on Saturday after four days of negotiations.

Earlier, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told reporters that EU officials had agreed on the Palestinians' legal status.

'Senior terrorists'

The 13 militants, described by Israel as "senior terrorists", are under guard at a Cyprus hotel.

It is not known when they will be moved to their host countries.

Israel considers them the most dangerous of the Palestinian militants that were holed up inside the Church of the Nativity for nearly 40 days.

Without the European Union, the Church of the Nativity would still be under siege today

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique
The EU offered to take the militants into exile to bring an end to the standoff between the Israeli army and the Palestinians at the church on May 10, in a deal supported by the United States and the Vatican.

EU foreign ministers have decided that none of the 13 should face arrest, and they have received assurances from Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that Israel would not seek their extradition.

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

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.

"Without the European Union, the Church of the Nativity would still be under siege today and Israeli troops would still be on the streets of Bethlehem," said Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique.

See also:

16 May 02 | Middle East
Palestinian MPs call for elections
10 May 02 | Middle East
Israel pulls out of Bethlehem
10 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem militants fly into exile
09 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem siege deal unravels
08 May 02 | Middle East
UN condemns Israel over Jenin
13 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinian 'shot dead' in Bethlehem
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Monks urge end to Bethlehem siege
10 May 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Bethlehem siege
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