Statement by Minister Cowen on Palestinians released from the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
As part of the settlement to end the siege of the Church if the Nativity, it was agreed between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority that thirteen of the Palestinians within the Church would leave the Occupied Territories. They were initially transferred to Cyprus and it was agreed that the International Committee of the Red Cross would find final destinations for them in the European Union or other like- minded States.
The General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels today welcomed the offer by six Member States, including Ireland, to provide a temporary stay on humanitarian grounds to the Palestinians involved. The Council expressed understanding that the offer was made in the context of the extreme circumstances surrounding this issue and as a way out of a crisis that could have widespread ramifications if it had continued.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, today announced that Ireland has decided in principle to offer temporary residence to one of the men involved. Announcing the Government's decision the Minister said:
" We have long been committed to assisting in the resolution of the problems in the Middle East. In offering to allow this person to come to Ireland we are helping to implement the agreement reached between the Government of Israel 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. It is a logical extension to the messages we have consistently conveyed to both sides and in the United Nations and other international fora."
The Minister also welcomed the reopening of the Church of the Nativity to worshippers, saying:
" 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."