Israel to let 9 deportees return home to Israel


JERUSALEM -- Israel has agreed to let nine of the 41 deported Palestinians leave their frozen camp in southern Lebanon today and return to Israel, where they will likely be jailed.

A tenth, 16-year-old Bassem Siouri, returned with Red Cross officials yesterday, and was brought to his home in Hebron.

The 10 were deported "by mistake" when Israel bused the Palestinians to southern Lebanon on Dec. 17 in a mass expulsion of Islamic fundamentalist Hamas members, Israeli justice officials said.

Israel Radio last night said the returning deportees would be returned "to their last place of residence." But Israeli officials said earlier nine of them will be charged with offenses.

The Palestinians have said they would rather go to prison than remain barred from their homeland for the two-year term of the deportation.

The remaining Palestinians are trapped on a "no man's land" between the security forces of Lebanon and Israel. Two Red Cross officials visited the camp yesterday, the first relief agency representatives allowed there in three weeks.

In addition to young Siouri, the Red Cross evacuated a Palestinian suffering from a kidney ailment. Zohair Lobbadeh, 26, reportedly was taken to a hospital in Marjayoun, inside the southern Lebanon "security zone" occupied by Israel.

Israel has remained adamant in the face of international demands that it take back all the Palestinians. Deportations by an occupying force are a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Israel Radio last night quoted Israel's ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, as saying he had "received assurances the U.S. would veto any United Nations sanctions."

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the U.N. secretary-general, has warned that the Security Council might vote on sanctions to enforce its resolution condemning the deportations and demanding the return of the deportees. The United States joined in that &L; condemnation, but has traditionally used its veto to protect Israel from sanctions.

Israel deported the men without trial after a kidnapping and a series of murders of Israeli security forces for which Hamas members took responsibility.

Israel has said it knows of none of those expelled from the country being involved in the crimes, but said the men were activists in the organization.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, acknowledged yesterday "there is no doubt that the deportation caused damage." He said on Israel Radio "if the Security Council takes extreme steps, the Arabs won't let themselves be less extreme."

Mr. Peres said he told the U.N.'s envoy to Israel on the issue, Chinmaya Gharekhan, that further pressure by the United Nations "could cause the peace process to stop."

Hanan Ashrawi, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegates to the peace talks, said the deportations were a "death blow" to the negotiations. The Palestinian delegates have said they will not return to the negotiating table until the deportees are returned.

Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, the other parties to the peace negotiations, have not yet made a similar vow. But the foreign ministers of Arab countries are due to meet this week in Cairo to demand a timetable for the implementation of the U.N. resolution calling for the deportees' return.

The peace talks are in recess until after the inauguration of President-elect Bill Clinton.

Red Cross officials visited the deportee's makeshift camp yesterday by driving to the headquarters of the U.N. force in Lebanon at Naqoura, just across the border. They took a U.N. helicopter to the camp.

The deportees have tents and firewood, and some food is apparently being brought to them by residents of nearby Lebanese villages.

The Lebanese government has refused to permit any formal relief operation to come through Lebanese territory, saying it will not accept responsibility for the deportees.

Israel too had refused to permit a relief agency from reaching the deportees from its territory, but relented on Thursday.

The Palestinians' makeshift camp is on a frozen hillside, and snow has entered some of the tents.

Georges Comninos, one of the Red Cross officials, told a Reuters correspondent at the camp: "I am confident that the next step will be to come back very soon, perhaps tomorrow."

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