They insisted that all of them - some 400 - should be allowed back or none. All were accused of being supporters or leaders of the two main organisations struggling against the Israeli occupation under the banner of Islam: the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad Organisation in Palestine.
In the Gaza Strip yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot dead five Palestinians and wounded 26 in clashes with armed men and stone-throwing protesters near the Bureij refugee camp, according to Arab reports. The army confirmed three of the deaths. Palestinian demonstrators later confronted Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip refugee camps of Nusseirat and Rafah.
The Israeli offer to allow 100 deportees to return was made to avoid strains between Israel and the United States and the United Nations. The US assured Israel that, in exchange, it would resist efforts to impose sanctions on Israel. The UN Security Council has called for the repatriation of all the deportees.
President Bill Clinton has announced he is sending his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to the Middle East to try to reopen the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations jeopardised by the row over the deportations.
At the same time, Hamas has condemned the decision announced earlier this week by the US State Department that it was to include the Palestinian movement in its next annual report on terrorist activity around the world.
The State Department has not categorised Hamas as a terrorist organisation. It has merely included a chapter on it in its annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism. The report describes most organisations that take up arms against regimes or governments.
Nor would it make any real difference if Hamas were branded a terrorist organisation. The full panoply of US legal restrictions are only deployed against countries, when states are put on the list of those which sponsor what the US calls terrorism.
Furthermore, the US government has shown itself to be decidedly unimpressed by revelations by Israel's security services that Hamas may enjoy support in Chicago and elsewhere. The US government has given no indication that it is prepared to take any action against those named by the Israelis.
For its part, Hamas insists its objectives are 'limited to confronting the occupation forces in the Palestinian territories. This is a legitimate act of defence.' A statement issued by the Hamas information office emphasised that 'any US step toward stamping our movement with the stamp of terrorism will be considered an irresponsible hostile act.
'Hamas considers itself to be a national liberation movement that struggles for the liberation of its land and people from occupation,' the statement said.
So why the fuss? Israel has been keen to portray Hamas as a terrorist organisation to deflect attention away from the deportations.
Hamas is not seeking recognition by the US. Unlike the avowedly secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, it is opposed to the current Middle East peace talks.Reuse content