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Palestinian Militants Dispersed in European Exile - 2002-05-22

Twelve Palestinian militants are arriving at temporary homes in six European countries under a deal that ended a tense standoff with Israeli forces at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Three of the Palestinians are live in temporary exile in Italy,

They arrived amid tight security at Rome's Ciampino military airport. The men were flown to Italy from Cyprus on a private Italian plane.

The Palestinians will be kept in Italy as part of an agreement hammered out with the European Union. Under the deal, Italy and Spain will each take three Palestinians, Greece and Ireland each take two, and Portugal and Belgium each accept one. A 13th Palestinian remains in Cyprus.

The three men staying in Italy are Mohammed Said and Khaled Abu Nijmeh, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, and Ibrahim Salem Abayat, a member of the militant group Hamas. Both organizations are considered terrorist groups by the U-S State Department.

They will be living at secret locations in Italy, which says it has taken them on a temporary basis and exclusively on humanitarian grounds.

The men are likely to be given new identities similar to those granted in Italy to Mafia informers. They will be allowed to move around, but not with complete freedom. They will be subject to government-imposed security to ensure their protection and the safety of Italian citizens.

A decree approved by the Italian government late Tuesday says the Palestinian militants will be given permits to stay in Italy for a maximum of 12 months.

Italy was initially listed as the destination for all 13 Palestinians. But the Italian government considered that solution impossible because it was not an Italian problem but one involving the whole of the West.