State likely to host Palestinian militants

 

The Government is expected to allow two of the 13 Palestinian militants from the siege at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity to enter the State on a temporary basis. The men, who have not been named, should arrive from Cyprus later this week provided final details can be worked out.

Ireland had already agreed to take one member of the group, and the Spanish EU Presidency has asked the Government to accept a second. "We are looking at that actively," said a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. "We have not signed off on it."

The pair are likely to be admitted by the Minister for Justice under the humanitarian provisions of the 1935 Aliens Act. They would be admitted for an initial period of up to 12 months during which they would have to remain within the State. If they were not in a position to return home after 12 months, they could apply for asylum.

There is no question of the men being jailed, and it is understood they may be permitted to work or undergo vocational training. The Palestinian leader, Mr Yasser Arafat, has given a written guarantee to the EU that the men will respect the laws of host countries.

EU ambassadors are likely to discuss final details in Brussels today. "We are trying to resolve it as quickly as possible," the Foreign Affairs spokesman said.

The EU agreed to accept the men to facilitate the ending of the Bethlehem siege. The same basic conditions are to apply in all states which admit members of the group.

Spanish state radio said yesterday Spain and Italy would each take three of the militants, Greece and Ireland would take two each, Portugal and Finland one each, with one remaining in Cyprus. Cyprus, a candidate for EU membership, had agreed to take the 13 men on a temporary basis.

The procedure of allocating members of the group to particular member-states has still to be decided. Some of the group are members of Mr Arafat's Fateh and others support the Hamas organisation. Sources said a lottery procedure would probably be used, but this was still subject to agreement at EU level. When the allocations have been made, it is expected the names will be announced.

The host countries have undertaken to ensure the personal security of the Palestinians on a humanitarian basis. In Ireland's case, it is expected the Garda authorities will assess the situation.

The move marks a significant stepping-up of EU involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hitherto the EU has confined itself to economic aid and appeals to both sides to engage in peaceful negotiations.