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Bethlehem militants to be flown to Cyprus
2002-05-10 14:53:18

Nicosia, May 9 (CNA) -- Under strict security measures, 13 Palestinian militants now besieged in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem by Israeli troops, will be temporarily accommodated in Cyprus before being moved to other countries, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides announced here tonight.

He said the Cyprus government "has played a role, behind the scenes, in the effort to end the siege of the Church of Nativity."

Kasoulides told a late-night news conference that the agreement for their transfer to Cyprus, probably tonight, and from here on to other countries, "was reached tonight" and said "an RAF aircraft will leave the Akrotiri British Bases (in Cyprus) for Tel Aviv in order to pick up 13 Palestinians and land on return at the Larnaca airport" to be handed over to Cypriot authorities.

The Cypriot minister said the agreement was reached following continuous communications with Spain's Foreign Minister and President of the General Affairs Council Josep Pique, General Secretary of the European Council Javier Solana, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, EU's Middle East peace envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos and with the contribution of the US administration, the government of Britain, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.|

Replying to questions, Kasoulides said "the departure from Tel Aviv will take place as soon as possible under the circumstances, since the deal is somewhat complicated, and provides for the transport of 38 other Palestinians from the Church to Gaza, and also provides for a certain procedure until the 13 would get aboard the plane to Cyprus."

He said the 13 Palestinian militants would be accommodated at a hotel, probably in the Larnaca district, "under strict security measures, for their own safety." He added that aboard the plane there would be two Cyprus Police officers.

Answering a question, Kasoulides said "the British Bases' only involvement concerns the transportation of the Palestinians to Cyprus."

Asked for how long the 13 Palestinians would be staying on the island, the FM said they will be here until "early next week." He added that on Monday the EU General Affairs Council will decide where the 13 militants will be moved to.

He said there are three countries that have offered to accept some of those 13 Palestinians, namely Spain, Italy and Greece, adding that probably other countries would also offer hospitality.

The minister said acting in such a way Cyprus, as a future EU member, shows its role as an expansion of Europe in Eastern Mediterranean.

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