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Palestinians Are Moved to Cyprus

May 10, 2002

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LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) _ For 12 Palestinian gunmen freed from Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the sight of Israeli snipers was replaced Friday by sunbathing Cypriots and blue Mediterranean seas.

The Palestinians, along with a 13th man hospitalized in Larnaca for a broken leg caused by an Israeli bullet, arrived in Cyprus aboard a British military plane.

Whisked by Cypriot riot police to the three-star Flamingo Hotel, the men are under the watch of gun-toting guards in rooms on the seaside hotel’s third floor.

Hours before being sent into exile Friday, they left the Church of the Nativity, where they took refuge April 2 as Israeli troops advanced into the West Bank city.

Israel accuses six of the 13 Palestinians of involvement in attacks on Israelis and says the other seven are also suspected militants. But Israel has released no details on the allegations against the seven.

Dr. Andreas Demosthenous, who examined the Palestinians at the hotel, told The Associated Press: ``They are in an amazingly good condition considering that they spent 40 days under siege, under very hard conditions ... They are simply very tired, but otherwise they are OK.″

The arrival of the Palestinians caused a stir on the tourist strip where the Flamingo Hotel is located. Tourists and Cypriots, many in swimsuits, gathered outside the hotel to watch as a small bus brought the Palestinians from Larnaca airport.

The Palestinians were rushed inside by Cypriot police, dressed in distinctive black uniforms and carrying weapons.

For the next 30 minutes, police, reporters, photographers, TV crews, hotel guests and onlookers milled on the pavement outside the hotel. Only registered guests were allowed inside.

``All the 64 rooms of the hotel are full and our guests are a bit excited, but they are taking events in their stride,″ hotel manager Andonis Josephides said. ``The hotel is functioning normally.″

When asked who would be paying for the Palestinians’ stay at the hotel, Josephides said he expected the Cypriot government to pay as it had booked the rooms.

No immediate comment could be obtained from the government.

Sami Abu Ghazali, the Palestinian diplomatic representative in Cyprus, visited the 12 men in their rooms. He said they were all relieved that they were allowed to leave Bethlehem without any complications.

Abu Ghazali, the Palestinian representative, said the men believe they will return to the Palestinian territories. ``It is a citizen’s right to return to his country and the Palestinian state will be established very, very soon,″ he said.

Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides 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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