By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Irish government has agreed in principle to take one of the 13 Palestinian militants who have been exiled as part of the settlement that ended the five-week Isr’li siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The fighters left last Friday under the terms of a deal to end the 38-day standoff in the church when it was agreed that they should go to member states of the EU or other countries willing to take them.
They are regarded as “senior terrorists” with blood on their hands by Isr’l and as “resistance heroes” by Palestinians.
They include members of the Hamas and Fatah Al-Aqsa Brigades. Yasser Arafat’s agreement that they be deported was unprecedented.
Isr’l has claimed two of the men oversaw suicide bombings in Jerusalem and another allegedly shot dead two Isr’lis and an American.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
They were all initially transferred to a hotel near Larnaca in Cyprus and it was agreed the International Committee of the Red Cross would find final destinations for them.
The U.S. and the EU had been heavily involved with the Vatican in the tortuous negotiations to end the siege at the Christian shrine
An Irish nurse, Mary Kelly, was one of 10 foreign peace activists who gained entry to the church during a peace demonstration on May 2. She is to be deported by Isr’l.
During the siege, eight Palestinians were killed and several were wounded by Isr’li snipers.
So far, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain have also indicated they will accept some of the militants. The men’s exact legal status is being discussed.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the Spanish presidency of the EU had approached Ireland at the weekend and requested that one of the men should be taken in.
“Informal contacts were made and now we have indicated a willingness to take one. The details are still being worked out,” a spokesman said.
Following discussions between foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Ireland’s Brian Cowen said temporary residence on humanitarian grounds was being offered.
“We have long been committed to assisting in the resolution of the problems in the Middle East,” Cowen said.
“In offering to allow this person to come to Ireland we are helping to implement the agreement reached between the government of Isr’l and the Palestinian Authority.
“This is concrete evidence of our desire to see peaceful solutions to these difficult problems. We are giving practical effect to what we have always advocated.”
Cowen said he also welcomed the reopening of the Church of Nativity to worshippers.
“The siege of the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ caused great anxiety to many Irish people and I am sure we are all glad that it ended without permanent damage to this holy site,” he said.