Exiles welcome repatriation offer: 395 Palestinians banished to Lebanon accept two-phase plan for return proposed by Israel

MARJ AL-ZOHOUR, Lebanon - Nearly 400 largely forgotten Palestinian deportees yesterday accepted an Israeli offer to take back 187 of their number next month, ending with cheers nearly eight months of defiance. 'We have decided to accept the new offer,' Abdul Aziz al- Rantisi, leader of the 395 men, said at their hillside camp in a south Lebanon no man's land.

Israel said the remaining 208 deportees would be allowed back in December. The men, who for months demanded to go home together, unanimously approved the Israeli proposal for a return in two stages. They cheered when their leaders emerged to make the announcement.

Israel was widely condemned when it banished 415 Palestinian men into the snows of south Lebanon on 17 December, accusing them of being linked to violent Islamic groups. The expulsion threatened to derail the Middle East peace process as Israel defied a United Nations Security Council resolution ordering it to take back the men immediately, but later the world began to lose interest in them.

Mr Rantisi said the decision to agree to the Israeli offer was forced on them as more than 100 of the men had fallen sick, the peace talks had resumed and the media had ignored their plight.

'The occupation authorities hoped we would refuse this new offer so it would have a pretext to deport us forever,' he said.

Mr Rantisi said they would still fight for the return of sick deportees through the International Committee of the Red Cross and for Israel to allow the rest back before next December. The ICRC yesterday asked Israel to include the sick in the first group to be returned.

'I've been living for the dream of returning for the past eight months,' said Khalil Abu Leila, a 40-year-old pharmacist from Khan Younis in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. 'Now I know the dream will come true. I am filled with joy and happiness, especially as I will kiss my daughter Ala. The bitterness of exile overwhelmed me.' Mr Rantisi said the men were also swayed by the failure of the Security Council resolution demanding their immediate return and by appeals from their families.

In Jerusalem, the Economics Minister, Shimon Shetreet, said the deportees' decision was a victory for Israel. 'They made the right decision. We have been offering them all the last month this proposition and I am glad they have accepted it.'

An aide to the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said Israel would allow 187 back in September and the other 208 in December.

Faisal al-Husseini, head of the Palestinian team to the Middle East peace talks, said Palestinians supported the deportees and no one had a right to object to their decision, 'because they know their circumstances better than anyone else'.

The men, given the names of those to be allowed back in September by their lawyers, spent the night discussing the offer and then lined up to telephone families with the news.

Israel agreed in February to take back 101 deportees and halve the expulsion period for the rest.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - Kent - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: C# and .Net Developer - n...

Guru Careers: Digital Marketing Exec / Online Marketing Executive

£35 - 40k: Guru Careers: Our client has a new role for a Digital Marketing Exe...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'