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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine