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Europe

Palestinian Militants Arrive in Europe

13 exiled Palestinians have landed in Greece and Italy, where they will be distributed across the continent on Wednesday under a deal negotiated by Spain and the European Union.

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Going into Exile: Palestinian militants prepare for a new life in Europe.

A Spanish jet carrying nine militants landed at the Athens airport in Greece late Wednesday morning, and a second aircraft carrying three others landed in Rome.

The gunmen men were expelled from the Palestinian territories by Israel as part of an EU-brokered deal that ended a 39-day stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Israel had demanded the militants be handed over for trial or sent into exile.

The Palestinians had been held at a hotel in the Cypriot resort town of Larnaca, while EU politicians and diplomats argued over the terms of their dispersal across Europe.

Spain and Italy are each taking three of the militants, Greece and Ireland two, and Portugal and Belgium one each. A 13th Palestinian will stay in Cyprus for the time being - though Cyprus has made it clear it wants him out.

Uncertain status

The host countries have agreed to grant the Palestinians visas for one year. However, their status is still unclear. EU leaders have said they will not be granted political asylum and that they will not be free to leave their host countries.

After reaching the deal last week, the Spanish EU presidency said all of the Palestinians will have the status of "temporary refugee" for a 6- to 12-month period. The EU foreign ministers agreed that the 13 Palestinians would enjoy protection "on humanitarian grounds" and be entitled to reunite with their families at a later date."

Though local laws in the host countries will be applied to the individual refugees, the EU has said that it will adopt a "common position" if Israel seeks to extradite any of them. They will also likely be given new identities and be subjected to government-imposed security.

The Palestinian gunmen had taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity during Israel's recent West Bank offensive launched after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.

Israel says it considers the men terrorists and might seek their extradition. Three of the men are members of the Hamas militant group and most of the other are from the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, which has claimed responsibility for many of the recent suicide bombings in Israel.

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