Expulsions of 100 Palestinians lifted

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The Independent Online
THE Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, last night announced that 100 of the Palestinians exiled to the south Lebanon no-man's land would be allowed home within two to four days.

The decision came after mounting pressure from the US to offer a compromise solution in the face of a growing threat that the UN Security Council would call for a sanctions resolution against Israel if it did not retreat over its deportation of the

Palestinians.

Following an emergency cabinet meeting last night and a day of intense contact between Jerusalem and Washington, Mr Rabin also announced that he had decided to consider halving the period of exile for some of the remaining deportees.

Israel will also review the cases of all the Palestinians concerned and allow helicopters to carry emergency humanitarian supplies to the deportees' camp just north of Israel's self-declared security zone in south Lebanon.

The announcement is a major climb- down by Mr Rabin, who has taken full personal responsibility for the unprecedented decision six weeks ago to deport more than 400 Palestinians suspected of supporting two Islamic militant groups in the occupied territories, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said last night that the steps announced by Israel made further action on the matter by the Security Council unnecessary and even counterproductive.

'The United States believes that this process which is being announced by Israel today is consistent with United Nations resolution 799 on the deportees,' he added, referring to a council resolution adopted on 18 December demanding the immediate return of all the hundreds of expelled

Palestinians.

This brought an immediate and angry response from the Palestinian peace delegation spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, who said: 'If the US has accepted such a deal, then it is in violation of its own vote in the Security Council.

'We are not engaged in finding a way out for Israel nor in trying to legalise deportation. This is a way of circumventing resolution 799. If the rule of law is to prevail the resolution must be applied.'

The deportees, who were huddled inside their tents yesterday as a winter storm lashed their camp, have insisted they be allowed back without conditions. Their spokesman, Abdul-Aziz Rantisi, responding earlier to reports of a compromise, said that they would reject partial repatriation.

Israel's main opposition party, Likud, criticised the cabinet decision as 'a capitulation to terrorist organisations, Arab governments and leftist ministers'.

The American strategy has been to delay a vote in the UN on sanctions against Israel, which the US would certainly veto as a last resort. The Clinton administration is also keenly aware that the deportee issue is seen as a test by Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians who are participating in the Middle East peace talks.

Yesterday's compromise will make it easier for the US to block any Security Council resolution on enforcing the resolution. No action is expected in the Council until later this week at the earliest.

The US still needs the UN to maintain sanctions against Iraq and hopes to get support for action against Serbia. A veto by Washington, the first in two years at the UN, would make both policies difficult to sustain in the face of accusations of

pro-Israel bias.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said the move was a 'gesture to the Clinton administration and in response to expectations of the European Community'. The EC has been hinting at trade sanctions against Israel unless the issue is resolved.

Asked what would be the next move if the deportees refused to accept Israel's offer, Mr Rabin shrugged, saying it was up to them.

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