Envoy: Exiled Palestinians Restricted for Own Safety

Palestinian militants flown to Cyprus to end a stalemate with Israel are being confined to a beach-front hotel for their own safety, the Palestinian envoy to this Mediterranean island said Sunday.

The 13 Palestinians have been described as free men, not prisoners or detainees, in Cyprus awaiting a European agreement on a final destination.

But the 12 at the hotel -- the 13th was hospitalized in Larnaca with a broken leg caused by an Israeli bullet -- have been let off the top floor only for meals on the second floor dining room. Other than official visitors, Cypriot police have allowed few to see them since they arrived Friday aboard a British military plane.

Both Cypriot government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou and Samir Abu Ghazaleh, the Palestinian representative to Cyprus who visited the men in the three-star Hotel Flamingo on Sunday, said their freedom of movement was restricted "for their own security."

Since the 1970s, there have been several cases of Israelis and Palestinians killing agents of the other in Cyprus. Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides has already ruled out the possibility of the gunmen staying in Cyprus.

"We are too close to the region and this would not be wise," he said.

Cassoulides 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."

Papapetrou, the Cypriot government spokesman, reiterated Sunday that the agreement that brought the 13 to Cyprus provided only for "a short stay."

On Monday, EU foreign ministers were expected to decide where in Europe the 13 Palestinians will be sent after their stay in Cyprus.

In Rome on Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel reserved the right to seek the extradition of the Palestinians, whom it regards as terrorists. He said if they were set free, Israel might try to bring them back for trial.

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

The 12 at the hotel got their first haircuts since leaving Bethlehem, hotel workers said Sunday. A Cypriot barber was escorted to the top floor by plainclothes security men.

The men also were doing laundry. A pair jeans hung out to dry on a small balcony attached to one of their rooms. On Friday, Palestinian representatives took some new clothes to the men.

The Palestinians have access to local TV channels, none of them in Arabic, and are calling home, hotel manager Anthonis Josephides said.

Twenty-six other militants who had stormed into the Christian shrine April 2 were taken to the Gaza Strip and freed. Israel then pulled its forces out of Bethlehem and ended its incursion into the West Bank.

EU envoy Miguel Moratinos, who met the Palestinians for 45 minutes on Saturday, said they were "free men," not prisoners and not detainees.