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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
RAF airlifts Palestinian militants
C 130 Hercules used to airlift Palestinians to Cyprus
Police officers and medics are on board the flight
An RAF aircraft carrying 13 Palestinian militants into exile has landed in Cyprus.

The C-130 Hercules transport aircraft left Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, transporting the men involved in the five-week siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The men - described by Israel as most-wanted terrorists - are to be given temporary sanctuary in Cyprus until their final place of exile is decided.

Britain stood ready to help

Foreign Office spokesman

Earlier the aircraft had left RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus, with a number of British military police officers and medics on board.

A Foreign Office spokesman refused to give any further details or outline the involvement of UK diplomatic efforts in bringing to an end the siege.

But he said 'Britain stood ready to help'.

Cypriot foreign minister Ioannis Cassoulides said the men to Cyprus's Larnaca airport where they will be handed over to Cypriot authorities.

It is a temporary host country ahead of their dispersal among several countries, including Italy and Spain.

Cyprus said it would take temporary charge of the 13, to clear the way for an end to the siege.

The 13 were to be followed by 26 who are to be taken to Gaza and about 85 civilians, who are to be freed.

An Italian foreign ministry official yesterday said that under the latest proposed deal, Italy and Spain would take some of the militants, while Austria, Greece, Luxembourg, Ireland and perhaps even Canada might take the rest.

Details of the men's final exiles will worked out at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

The BBC's Peter Van Velsen
"One by one they came out"
Israel foreign ministry official Mark Sofer
"These are people we would like to see on trial"
The BBC's Claire Marshall in Bethlehem
"To the very last minute there were hitches"
See also:

09 May 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Bethlehem siege
09 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem siege: Inside the negotiations
10 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem church siege over
05 Jan 98 | Business
UK flying high on Hercules orders
13 Nov 01 | England
RAF 'eye in the sky' centre opens
23 Jan 02 | Scotland
RAF squadron switches base
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