E.U. Postpones Decision On Designation Of 13 Palestinian Refugees

Their Legal Status and Countries of Destination Are Still Unclear

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BRUSSELS, MAY 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).-The European Union decided to postpone the decision over which countries will admit the 13 Palestinian militants, shut in Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity over the 39-day siege.



Israel, which regards them as "terrorists," allowed them to go into exile last Friday, bringing an end to the siege. The Palestinians are currently in Cyprus.

The EU Foreign Ministers are continuing to study the Palestinians´ destiny at a technical level. Sources of the European Union´s Presidency disclosed that the Ministers have given themselves until the weekend to come to a decision.

Sources also specified that the permanent ambassadors of the Fifteen to the EU will discuss the "ways" for sheltering these 13 individuals, specifically, the legal status under which they will travel to other countries and their distribution among the EU members.

"Six countries -- Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal -- have signaled a willingness to receive the Palestinians, but the others have not totally ruled out" the possibility of "taking part," diplomatic sources told the press.

The question of their legal status will probably be the most formidable, since the Palestinian refugees are not subject to any judicial proceedings or detention order, and the Fifteen will have to decide under what regime they will be accepted by the EU.

European Commission President Romano Prodi said the EU was not trying to shirk its political responsibility for the men, but needed more time to work out their precise legal status once various Member States take them in.

"We have taken on this responsibility at a European level," Prodi told reporters. "Various EU countries have made themselves available. Now we have to decide how the men will be distributed among these countries as well as their precise legal status."