Israel allows 181 Palestinian deportees to return from southern Lebanon ISRAELI-PLO PEACE TALKS

September 10, 1993|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- Nine months after it expelled some 400 accused Islamic militants to Lebanon, Israel allowed nearly half of them to return yesterday, despite concerns among Israeli officials that they would fuel opposition in the occupied territories to an accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Palestinian self-rule.

Their return coincided with, but was not linked to, announcements of the new accords.

Most of the returning deportees are believed to be members of militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are vehemently opposed to any peace agreement with Israel.

Buses with windows painted white carried the 181 Palestinians into Israel from southern Lebanon, where the deportees had been living since December in a tent camp just north of Israel's self-declared "security zone."

Israeli officials said the Palestinians would be taken to detention centers for questioning. Those who are suspected of violence or who had been serving jail terms before the deportation would remain in prison, while the rest would be released over the next few days, officials said. The security authorities have sought to avoid a mass release to prevent street demonstrations by supporters of the returning Palestinians.

Expelled Dec. 17 for periods ranging from 18 months to two years, the deportees had been accused by Israel of being fund-raisers, organizers and political and religious leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In February, Israel agreed to return 101 deportees and to halve the expulsion period for the rest. It was part of an agreement with the Clinton administration to hold off threatened United Nations sanctions and to help restart the Mideast peace talks, broken off by Arab negotiators after the expulsions.

The deportees originally rejected the Israeli offer but accepted it last month, citing dwindling interest in their cause and their failure to prevent a resumption of the peace talks.

After yesterday's return, about 200 deportees remained in Lebanon, scheduled to return in December, a year after their expulsion.

Although Israel felt it had to abide by its commitment to bring the deportees home, it was not happy about it.

Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur said their return might "breathe new life" into militant Islamic groups and touch off unrest in the occupied territories. "At a time of negotiations, this return is not convenient," he said. "However, we are taking every measure to reduce the risk involved in bringing them back."

A statement by the Defense Ministry warned against further violence and said Israel "would not hesitate to take extraordinary measures against those who engage in terrorism."

The deportees had been sent into exile after five Israeli servicemen were killed in December and Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks. The deportation failed to halt anti-Israeli violence, which only stopped after the government closed off the occupied territories in March.

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