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Six EU Countries Offer to Take In Palestinian Militants


European Union foreign ministers say six E.U. nations have agreed to receive 13 Palestinian militants who had taken refuge in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, triggering a six-week standoff with Israeli troops that ended last week.

An E.U. spokeswoman says Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Belgium stepped forward to take the militants. The European Union hopes even more countries will offer assistance.

Senior E.U. officials later this week are to sort out an arrangement under which the 13 men would receive the same treatment, no matter which country they go to.

The 13 men were taken Friday from the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest shrines, to Cyprus under a deal brokered by the European Union, the United States, and the Vatican.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, speaking through an interpreter, says the European Union was acting on a request from both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

"What I mean by that is that we've got the express thanks of the Palestinian authority, but also the expressed thanks of the Israeli authorities," he said. "They were the ones who made this agreement possible and they therefore were in favor of these people leaving the territory."

The European Union describes the prisoners as free men, not prisoners or detainees.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said earlier that the 13 men were engaged in terror. Mr. Pique says that despite Israel's view, it appears there is no outstanding legal case against any of the men in European countries.

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