Deportees remain resolute

MARJ AL-ZOHOUR, Lebanon - The Palestinian deportees trapped between Israeli and Lebanese lines rejected a proposal by Israel yesterday that they leave their icy tent camp for a third country. The 415 Palestinians, expelled by Israel on 17 December for alleged ties to hostile Muslim groups, said they would leave their camp only for home.

'We refused to enter Lebanon although it is our second home, so how can we we go to another country, European or non-European?' the deportees' leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, said. 'We will leave here only to return to our children and families in our homeland,' he told reporters.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, met the UN envoy, James Jonah, yesterday and called for a third country to take the Palestinians until their two- year terms of deportation expire. 'I believe that this is the only way to do it,' Mr Rabin said, vowing there would be no reversal of the expulsion.

Mr Jonah, a UN Under-Secretary-General, returned to Israel from Beirut on Tuesday after Lebanon refused to allow him to visit the deportees through its territory or consider an Israeli proposal to supply them.

The deportees, who have been running low on food, medicine and warm clothing, said villagers smuggled in cheese and canned tuna fish overnight. Lebanon, which argues that the deportees are Israel's responsibility, has barred all aid from passing to their camp.

The deportees took advantage of rare sunshine to recover from snowstorms that hit them in the past several days. They fixed tents and were building a makeshift bathroom.

Dr Rantisi said 10 deportees whom Israel said it had expelled by mistake and is willing to take back were free to return.

'I want to return . . . even if there was a trial, which I hope would be fair,' said Mahmoud Akilan, 25, one of the ten. 'They have nothing against me.'

GENEVA - The PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, yesterday branded Israel's deportation of the 415 men a 'war crime' and said it was hard for the Palestinians to resume Middle East peace talks until they were returned home, Reuter reports.

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