- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

The fate of 13 Palestinians whisked from the Church of the Nativity to a beachfront hotel in Cyprus remained unclear yesterday, with Israel threatening to seek extradition and others hinting they might be turned loose.
"Our point of view, and the most important issue for us, is they would not be coming back," an Israeli official in Washington said.
"We haven't yet finalized how these people are going to be held in Europe," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
The 13 Palestinians on Israel's most-wanted list were flown to Cyprus yesterday, bringing an end to the 39-day standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, revered by Christians as being on the site where Jesus was born.
The group is to be divided and sent to a number of European countries, and possibly Canada. But no one was sure what to do with them.
"If they come as free citizens, then it is improper to say that some countries are going to take some of them, because in Europe free citizens can circulate freely inside internal European borders," Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said.
"Or they come as detainees, and then it's the [courts] which must decide whether they are to be deprived of their liberty," Mr. Castelli said.
A decision on their legal status could be made at a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday.
A Palestinian official suggested the men would remain in exile for only three years.
But the Israeli official denied that, saying the documents relating to the end of the siege of Bethlehem and that the men's release did not carry a limit on their exile.
"I have heard that the Palestinians say there will only be three years' exile. But they are not going to return," the official said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said in Rome that Israel reserved the right to seek extraditing the 13 men from their European havens, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Those people have the scent of blood on their hands. They killed other people," and Israel wants to "put them to justice, bring them before a court," Mr. Peres said.
At the very least, Israel expects host governments to "keep an eye on" the exiled Palestinians to assure they do not create security problems for Israel, Mr. Peres said.
The agreement to send the men away was drawn up with the help of the Vatican and the European Union, especially EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The United States was also involved in the negotiations.
The 13 were members of either the Al Aqsa Brigade, a group linked to Yasser Arafat, or Hamas.
Both groups are listed as terrorist organizations by the State Department and have taken responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings against Israelis in recent months.
The men were flown by British military plane to a three-star seafront tourist hotel in Larnaka, Cyprus, yesterday.
They were staying on the third floor, and armed guards were nearby, according to reports.
Dr. Andreas Demosthenous, who examined the Palestinians at the hotel, told Associated Press that "they are in an amazingly good condition considering that they spent 40 days under siege, under very hard conditions."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that, under the agreement that ended the standoff, the host nations can decide how to hold the men.
Mr. Peres said the arrangements for the exiles remained vague. "I would say this is a sort of constructive ambiguity in order to solve the problem," he said.
Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kassoulides has said the Palestinians will stay under police guard at the hotel until their countries of exile have been decided.
He said Foreign Minister Josep Pique of Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, had assured him the EU would find places of exile for the 13 men "early next week."


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