- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

LARNACA, Cyprus The European Union finalized a deal yesterday to accept 13 Palestinian militants involved in the siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The men have been eating three meals a day and passing time watching satellite TV at a Cyprus beach hotel for the last two weeks.

Twelve are expected to fly today to six EU nations that have agreed to offer them a home for at least a year. Abdullah Daoud, the militant Israel considers the most dangerous, said he is looking forward to a new life and reuniting with his family in Europe.

Cyprus, a Mediterranean island state expected to join the EU by January 2004, had reluctantly given temporary refuge to the militants, whom Israel has accused of being terrorists.

Under the EU deal, Spain and Italy will each take three militants, Greece and Ireland will each take two, and Portugal and Belgium will each accept one. The 15-nation EU said one militant would remain in Cyprus until an EU country can be found to take him in.

The EU offered to take on the militants to end the 39-day standoff after Palestinian gunmen escaped Israeli troops by fleeing into the church. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the deal showed the EU "can play a worthwhile role" in the effort to bring peace to the Middle East.

An EU statement said the 12 militants will stay in their host nations for up to a year and would not be allowed to travel to other countries.

Speaking to Spanish radio station RAC 1, EU Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos said all 13 militants will be able to work or study. "They won't be detained, not at all. They will have freedom, although they will be under a certain control," he said without elaborating.

Since May 10, the Palestinians have been living at the Flamingo Beach Hotel in the beach resort of Larnaca under the round-the-clock watch of Cypriot anti-terrorist police.

Cyprus has insisted that they were not under detention, but the militants have been confined to the three-star hotel.

Escorted by police, the Palestinians have been leaving their rooms on the hotel's top floor three times a day, making their way to a second-floor dining hall reserved for their meals.

Hotel manager Antonis Josephides declined to reveal costs for the Palestinians' stay, which is being paid for by the Cypriot government, but said a double room costs $70 a night and guests are charged about $20 for lunch and dinner.

Twelve of the 13 militants are staying two to a room, which includes satellite TV channels in Greek, Spanish, German, Russian and Swedish. The Flamingo fronts a sandy beach where many female tourists sunbathe topless.

Three of the 13 are members of Hamas, a group on the State Department's terrorist groups. Most belong to Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah group. Hamas and Al Aqsa are responsible for most of the 60 suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis since the latest Palestinian uprising began nearly 20 months ago.

They were among about 200 Palestinians, including several dozen gunmen, who ran into the Church of the Nativity on April 2 ahead of advancing Israeli troops. Twenty-six others were exiled to the Gaza Strip. The rest went free.

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