Deportations 'kill' peace talks: Hamas threatens to attack civilians after Israel expels 417 Palestinians to Lebanon despite international protests

Click to follow
THE MIDDLE East peace talks looked likely to collapse last night after the Israeli government went ahead with an unprecedented deportation of 383 Palestinians suspected of supporting Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. A further 34 Palestinians from the Ketziot detention centre in southern Israel were expelled hours later.

Hamas denounced the expulsions as 'total war' and said it would retaliate with attacks on Israeli civilians.

Despite an international outcry, warnings from Palestinian leaders that the act would kill the peace process, and a statement from the Lebanese government saying those being deported would be turned back, the Israeli army escorted them over its northern border into Israel's self-declared security zone in south Lebanon. Israel Radio said they would be given a little food, water, blankets and jackets. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it would house the Palestinians in tents in no man's land between the security zone and the rest of Lebanon and provide them with food.

The move is in retaliation for the murder by Hamas gunmen of Nissim Toledano, 29, a border guard, seized from his home in Israel on Sunday and found dead on Wednesday. Hamas had demanded the release of its founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in exchange.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, said last night the 'temporary exile' was to deter those who incite to murder. The deportations, for two years, came after a last-minute appeal by human rights lawyers was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, which sat all day in emergency session.

Britain had urged the Israeli authorities not to go ahead with the deportations. The Foreign Office issued a statement that, as president of the EC Council of Ministers, Britain 'calls on all parties to exercise restraint in order to ensure that extremists do not succeed in their objective of undermining the peace process'. The statement said that the policy of deportations was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bans the 'forcible transfer as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied territories'. The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called on Israel to rescind the deportation orders. The PLO said that Arab-Israeli peace talks would not continue unless Israel revoked its order deporting the Palestinians.

The Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik al-Hariri, gave strict orders to his Defence Minister, Mohsen Dalloul, for the army to stop anyone entering government-controlled territory and said that if harm came to the Palestinians it would be Israel's responsibility. It was the first time that Lebanon has refused to accept Palestinians deported by Israel.

Blindfolded and bound, the Palestinians were driven in 22 buses to the Zemraya crossing in Israel's security zone in south Lebanon - the last Israeli-controlled crossing in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The first Lebanese army checkpoint is at Marj as-Zohour, three miles across no man's land. Before the Palestinians were finally expelled, the handful of Lebanese soldiers at the Marj as-Zohour checkpoint were reinforced by dozens of troops with anti-tank rockets, rifles and a tank.

Mr Rabin said he did not believe the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks would carry out their threat to abandon negotiations, adding that he was confident talks would resume once the President-elect, Bill Clinton, was in office in January. Arab delegations boycotted the final scheduled session of talks with Israel in Washington yesterday. As administration officials pleaded with all parties to continue negotiations and urged Israel to rescind the deportation order, the head of the Palestinian delegation, Haidar Abdelshafi, called the plans 'a challenge to the whole democratic world' and - if implemented - as dealing 'a death blow to the peace process'.

Immediately after a 20-minute courtesy meeting with President George Bush at the White House, Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians appeared at the wind-up talks only to deliver protest notes.

Mr Bush promised to intervene with Mr Rabin to try to secure a change of heart, while his spokesman insisted a Middle East settlement 'has never been more achievable'. The Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, sent a note to Israel stating Washington's 'strong objections' to the deportations.

Rabin's iron fist, page 9

Leading article, page 18

(Photograph omitted)