Israel lets 50 Arabs return from exile

April 06, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

RAFAH, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip -- Three years ago, Israeli authorities came quietly at midnight to his home to send Jamal Abu Al-Jidian into exile.

"But I have just been released from 10 years in prison," he protested, according to his wife, Mona Abu Al-Jidian.

Yesterday, he was among 50 Palestinians who returned to their homes from banishment throughout the Arab world.

Many of them, like Mr. Al-Jidian, have spent much of their adult lives fighting Israel, or waiting in prison or living in exile as a result of their political activities.

They returned yesterday as part of the quickening steps toward a turnover to Palestinian control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. That turnover is to be the first phase in a five-year plan of Israeli relinquishment of control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the deportees' return was "another positive signal" in negotiations with Israel.

In Jerusalem, the exiles once reviled as terrorists were praised by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as "pioneers in the implementation of this new rapprochement between the Palestinians and ourselves."

Some of the exiled leaders helped negotiate the plan for Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.

Yesterday in Cairo, Egypt, representatives of Israel and the Palestinians continued marathon sessions to try to agree on the final details of the military's withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho. "We are approaching the end. Certainly today there was major progress," said Israel's chief negotiator, Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak.

Still, the Israel army and police continued their evacuation preparations yesterday. They vacated their main headquarters and a police station in Gaza City, leaving only a small contingent of guards.

"We're tired of them. After they leave, we will feel better," said Mufed Khalil al-Hissi, standing outside the three-story police building, empty except for three guards.

The feeling was mutual among the Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip, said Maj. Sharon Grinker, a spokesman for the army.

"The feeling of the troops is very clear. It runs from good to great," he told reporters on a tour of the fast-emptying posts.

The Palestinian exiles who returned yesterday included many of those who helped organize the intifada, or uprising, that began in 1987 challenging Israeli control of the territories captured in 1967.

Some were deported in the mid-1980s; others as far back as the 1970s. Some fled the country because they were wanted by authorities. Many went to Tunis, Tunisia, or other Arab capitals to work as officials of the PLO.

They came back in two groups yesterday; one bus from Amman arrived in Jericho, and another from Cairo crossed into the Gaza Strip at the border with Egypt.

Several hundred people sweltered in the heat at the Rafah border crossing to greet the arrivals. They swarmed to the bus when it finally arrived in the late afternoon after delays in Egypt.

Hundreds more lined the route as the bus made its way through the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip.

"This is the start," said Rashid Abu Shbak, one of those returning from Egypt. "I am happy for myself, but I am not fully happy until they bring back all the deportees."

Palestinians claim that at least 1,500 persons were involuntarily deported or agreed to exile to avoid imprisonment during Israel's 27-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

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