JERUSALEM -- Israel has agreed to permit two Red Cross officials to visit Palestinians deported into southern Lebanon, the first crack in the impasse over the issue.
Red Cross officials will travel from Israel today to the border of Lebanon, and fly by United Nations helicopter to the deportees camp, said Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister.
Israel had refused to allow any relief agency to reach the 415 Palestinians through Israeli-controlled territory, maintaining the men became Lebanon's responsibility after the deportations Dec. 17.
Lebanon refused to let them pass the first Lebanese checkpoint. It also has refused to allow relief agencies to reach the Palestinians, camped on a freezing hillside, maintaining it will not be a "dumping ground" for Israel.
Yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri said the Red Cross team would be allowed in "for one time only."
The visit "is not a relief action," said Reto Meister, head of the Red Cross in Tel Aviv. "It is just an assessment. It is a one-day, one-time assessment to see if they need food or have other needs."
He said Israel has not agreed to allow the Red Cross officials to take relief supplies to the stranded men.
Mr. Peres said "I hope very much there will be progress" in resolving the conflict. He is to meet today with the second U.N. envoy sent to Israel on the matter, Chinmaya Ghaerkhan.
The U.N. Security Council has condemned Israel's deportations as a violation of the Geneva Convention. The U.N. secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has warned that sanctions may be approved if Israel does not take back the Palestinians.
Israel bused the Palestinians into Lebanon without trial, saying they were members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad fundamentalist groups that were behind a kidnapping and five murders of Israeli soldiers.
In Marj Az-Zohour, Lebanon, Reuters quoted the deportees as saying a one-day visit was not enough.
"Our needs are very clear: continuous help and emergency medical help," said Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, a physician and university professor.
But Mr. Peres told Israel radio that "the problem isn't urgent."
"The deportees are not suffering from lack of food or medical equipment," he said. Reports from southern Lebanon have indicated the men are being smuggled food and supplies from nearby Lebanese villages, despite occasional shelling of the pathways by Israel and its southern Lebanese allies.
Despite the international furor over the deportations, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has been adamant about not relenting. He has delivered some of his bluntest rebuttals in recent days, asserting that he "doesn't care" about U.N. actions, and contending the world eventually will see Israel is right.
The Israeli public has by all indications remained overwhelmingly supportive of the move. But there is less support for Israel's refusal to allow relief agencies to see the deportees by crossing the Lebanese "security zone" controlled by Israel.
The approval for the Red Cross visit is seen as a gesture by Mr. Rabin to the U.N. envoy.