NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Three Palestinians arrested after the slayings of three Israelis aboard their yacht were ordered held today in police custody for eight days and Israel moved to have them extradited.
Police told a district court in the port city of Larnaca they needed time to investigate possible connections between the three men and other visitors to the island nation about 150 miles northwest of Israel.
Cypriot police officers said the three Palestinians would be held in a special compound of the Nicosia central prison. The suspects, who appeared in court under stringent security, were identified in court as Elias Yehia Nassif, 24, Mahmoud Khaled Abdallah, 24, and George Hanna, 27, all of Lebanon. In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Shimon Peres and acting Foreign Minister Moshe Arens agreed after a Cabinet discussion today to have the Israeli Justice Ministry begin extradition proceedings against the three suspects.
A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said the proceedings might be prepared by the end of the day. He could point to no precedent in which Israel asked another nation to return a suspect for a crime committed in that nation.
The Palestinians boarded the yacht in fashionable Larnaca harbor shortly before dawn Wednesday -- Yom Kippur, the holiest of the Jewish holy days.
Police said they first shot Esther Palzur, 50, leaving her nightgown-clad body slumped over a guard rail. Her husband, Reuven Palzur, 53, and family friend Avraham Anvery, 55, were bound, blindfolded and shot at point-blank range inside the boat's cabin.
'We fight for the Palestinians,' one of the gunmen said as the three were led away after a 10-hour stand-off. The bodies in the cabin were found only after the men surrendered.
Police Inspector Yiannakis Christodoulou said today, 'We are investigating a clear case of premeditated murder and one of the lines we are taking is to find if the three men had connections in Cyprus and if so who they are.'
Mrs. Palzur was killed 'in cold blood' and the other two were killed 'with their hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head,' he said.
The three suspects were carefully guarded and handcuffed to policemen as they were taken in and out of the court today. Paramilitary police in camouflage uniforms watched from neighboring rooftops.
The Israeli government broke its silence at sundown Wednesday, the end of Yom Kippur, to say it was 'deeply shocked at the despicable murder of three Israeli citizens ... The killers and their senders will not go unpunished.'
Deputy Foreign Minister Ronnie Milo later demanded that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher call off her proposal for a meeting, probably in October, with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that would include two PLO members.
An element of mystery surrounded the gunmen and the motives for the attack.
The men demanded release of 20 Palestinian guerrillas captured at sea last month by Israeli forces while sailing to Lebanon. They also demanded safe conduct to the airport and a plane to fly them out of Cyprus.
But yachtsmen in Larnaca harbor said all the shots were fired within three hours of the attack -- suggesting that the gunmen left no time for serious negotiations.
Israeli security forces said they believed Force 17, PLO leader Yasser Arafat's bodyguard unit, was behind the attack. Israel television said the attackers included Force 17's deputy comander, whom it identified as Faisal Abu Sharkh.
A caller who said he was from Force 17 contacted United Press International last Sunday and warned of attacks against Israeli targets 'all over the world' if the 20 guerrillas were not released.
But Israel radio reported that PLO representatives negotiated with the gunmen and a PLO spokesman in Cyprus denied the killers were from his organization.
Some observers in Cyprus held the theory that the gunmen might be from a militant faction opposed to Arafat and wanted to undermine proposals for preliminary talks between Palestinian representatives and the United States on Middle East peace efforts. The talks are being promoted by Jordan and Egypt.