It is "altogether premature" to talk about deporting to Europe any prisoners released in a possible swap for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, one senior European official said Wednesday amid reports that Israel is demanding some 130 of the "worst" terrorists be expelled either to the Gaza Strip or beyond.
The senior official said he did not know of any formal or informal request made by Israel or the German negotiator mediating between Israel and Hamas to any EU countries asking them to allow the prisoners into their borders.
Nevertheless, the deportation in 2002 of 13 wanted Palestinians who holed themselves up inside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem for some 40 days set a precedent for this type of arrangement. In addition, another 26 of the more than 200 Palestinians who originally broke into the compound were banished to Gaza.
The official said it was likely that if both Israel and the Palestinians implored the EU, as they did in 2002, to take in some of the prisoners, some countries would agree. At the same time, he said, the previous experience has shown that the task does place a burden on the host country since it has to monitor the prisoners, something that takes local police resources and money.
The official said the prisoners would have to be distributed to a number of countries, and that no one country should be asked to bear the entire burden.
Of the 13 men exiled to Europe from the Church of Nativity, three went to Italy, three to Spain, two each to Greece and Ireland, and one each to Belgium, Portugal, and Cyprus. Under the agreement reached with Israel, they are not to return until Jerusalem gives a "green light" to do so. In some cases the men have asked their countries of refuge to allow them to bring over family members.
Defense officials, meanwhile, said Israel was considering deporting the most dangerous of the hundreds of prisoners to be involved in the Schalit deal to Sudan and Tunisia, and possibly to Lebanon.
The British-based Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, meanwhile, reported on Wednesday that Hamas had agreed to Israel's demand to expel 123 Palestinian prisoners. According to the paper, 97 of the prisoners would be expelled to Gaza, more than 20 to Qatar and six to European countries that agreed to take them in.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.