'No mercy' for exiles, Rabin tells UN envoy

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL told the visiting United Nations envoy yesterday that it would not reverse its decision to banish 415 Palestinian Islamists, caught in a political and territorial limbo in south Lebanon.

'I explained to my interlocutor that the Israeli government has decided to fight, without mercy, the terrorism of Islamic extremists,' the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said. Earlier, Mr Rabin told a delegation of 200 Arab-Israeli mayors and municipal officials demonstrating against the expulsion: 'I will not permit a single Israeli citizen to be in contact with the expelled.'

The UN Security Council has condemned the deportations as a violation of international law, and demanded that Israel return the men to their homes on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the resolution contained no sanction against Israel.

The Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, told Israel Army radio he had explained to James Jonah, the UN special envoy, that the Security Council resolution was 'one- sided in that it did not relate to the reasons the Hamas people were deported - it did not mention the murders'.

Israel ordered the deportations after six Israeli soldiers were killed by Muslim militants. All the exiled Palestinians are known, or suspected, to be active in support for Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or the even more militant Islamic Jihad Movement.

Mr Peres said after meeting Mr Jonah: 'When he asked me what is the best way out, I said in my opinion the best thing is for the deportees to submit their appeals before committees that will be appointed swiftly.'

His answer will not help many of the Palestinians expelled by Israel on 17 December. Mr Peres was referring to the military appeals committees to which deportees can resort under new military orders. Mr Rabin acted so swiftly in banishing the Palestinians that they had no time to appeal.

The authoritative Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, quoted army sources as saying that six of the deportees were victims of mistaken identity. If those were to appeal successfully, Israel could demonstrate that some due process had been followed in the deportations.

In the past, appeals against deportation have failed in all but one case - that of Bassam Shakaa, the one-time mayor of Nablus.

Mr Rabin's hope is that the world will get bored with the question, the film cameras will leave, and the exiled Palestinians will melt into the hillsides or be absorbed by the Lebanese Hizbollah.

The Israeli government was given 72 hours yesterday by the Supreme Court judge, Aharon Barak, to explain why the International Committee of the Red Cross should not be allowed access to the deportees through territory held or controlled by Israel.

Whereas the cabinet in Mr Rabin's coalition government had reflected public horror at the soldiers' killings by wholeheartedly supporting the expulsions, it was split on humanitarian assistance.

Mr Rabin triumphed by eight votes to six with two abstentions. His left-wing coalition partners, Meretz, and dovish Labour ministers supported letting Red Cross aid convoys pass.

Yesterday Mr Rabin appointed Yossi Sarid, the Meretz human rights activist, to his cabinet.

A rock and a hard place, page 8

Letters, page 12