JERUSALEM -- In the continuing crisis over the 400 Palestinians deported to Lebanon, the Israeli government debated actions yesterday to stave off sanctions threatened by the United Nations Security Council and announced the arrest of two Arab-Americans it suspects of involvement in the group that was the main target of the expulsions.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin announced no decisions, but a sense of urgency arose when Mr. Rabin took the unusual step of interrupting the regular weekly session to meet with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, William C. Harrop, to discuss the deportations and the arrests announced yesterday, a senior official said.
Israel suspects the Arab-Americans of trying to reorganize the militant Islamic group known as Hamas after the detention and expulsion of its reputed leaders.
The two men were identified as Mohammed Joma Hilmi Jarad, 36, of Chicago, and Mohammed Abdel Hamid Salah, 39, of Bridgeview, Ill. Both have relatives in the West Bank. Their
arrests led to the detention of 40 more suspected Hamas members, the army said.
A background paper issued by the Government Press Office said the two men were arrested Jan. 25 after they were sent by Hamas leaders in the United States and Britain to deliver money and instructions to militants in the occupied territories.
They had more than $100,000 and written minutes of meetings with Hamas members in which attacks, including suicide missions, were discussed, the statement added.
Israeli security officials believe that Hamas has moved its main command structure to the United States after repeated arrests of its leaders in the occupied territories.
The officials say Hamas operatives in the United States control regional commands of the organization in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ordering guerrilla attacks and receiving reports from the occupied territories.
The officials said the Hamas movement was the target of the mass expulsions in mid-December.
The immediate concern for both Israel and the Clinton administration is how to avert sanctions against Israel for its continued violation of a Security Council demand to return the deported men from their makeshift tent camp in southern Lebanon.
U.S. officials said they disapprove of sanctions but also want to avoid reaching the point of having to exercise a Security Council veto, for fear of antagonizing Arab nations and undercutting their faith in U.S. even-handedness in the Mideast peace talks.
In addition, there are fears that a U.S. veto, which would be the first in more than two years, could harm Washington's efforts to mobilize the United Nations for action in Iraq, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.
So the Clinton administration has called on the Israelis to come up with a solution on their own, and quickly, to defuse the crisis. One possibility said to be under consideration is a plan to bring back some of the deportees and shorten the exile period for others after a review of their security files by special military boards that were set up a few days ago.
After the meeting yesterday, Elyakim Rubenstein, the Cabinet secretary, told reporters that the military review "may have some results."
At their tent camp in southern Lebanon, the deportees rejected any half-measures, saying they would be satisfied only with a return of all the exiles, in compliance with Security Council Resolution 799 passed Dec. 18, a day after the expulsions. The Council is expected to meet on the deportations this week.