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Israeli court refuses to oppose expulsions

ISRAEL'S Supreme Court last night refused to overturn the government's decision to deport 418 Palestinians to south Lebanon, saying it did not want to get involved.

Civil rights lawyers had argued that Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which sets out safeguards for people living under occupation and outlaws deportation.

Hanan Ashrawi, the spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks, said the ruling was a 'deliberate attempt to destroy the peace process and legitimise violence'.

The Supreme Court had already ruled last Thursday that the deportations could go ahead. Yesterday it ruled that the safety of the Palestinians was not Israel's responsibility as they were now on Lebanon's sovereign territory and not in no-man's land.

The fact that Lebanon does not wish to accept them is not Israel's concern, the court decided. Giving evidence, the Chief of Staff, Lt-Gen Ehud Barak, said rejection of the Palestinians by Lebanon and the subsequent stand-off was just a 'political and public-relations game'.

The Supreme Court's decision was widely expected, in view of its general reluctance to question decisions relating to Palestinian rights that the government says are taken for security reasons. Now the only hope for a resolution of the crisis rests with international bodies.

The United Nations, the European Community and the International Committee of the Red Cross have condemned the action, but none of them appears ready to put further pressure on Israel to take the deportees back. Last night, Israel agreed to allow the UN Under-Secretary-General, James Jonah, to make a 'goodwill visit' to Israel following a telephone call on Tuesday from the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to Israel's Foreign Minster, Shimon Peres.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, remained unmoved by world opinion. Yesterday, Gen Barak told the court that Israeli troops had been ordered to shoot to prevent the return of the Palestinians, who were expelled last Thursday because of their support for Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Mr Rabin personally ordered shells to be fired near the Palestinians when they tried to return on Monday. 'I authorised firing some shells in their direction,' Mr Rabin told the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. 'To the best of my knowledge, not one person was hurt. Everything was a show.' The Israeli army had at first denied that it had fired live ammunition at the Palestinians.

In the Gaza Strip, where nearly 200 of the detainees are from, curfews remained at least partially in place because of anxiety that violence would erupt if they were lifted. In Gaza there is intense shock and anger at the killing by Israeli soldiers of eight Palestinians - including a seven-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy - during violence in Khan Younis town and refugee camp on Saturday.

Western officials say medical evidence shows most of the dead and wounded were shot above the waist, indicating that Israel's usual regulations on opening fire were breached.

Israel says the dead were armed, and the soldiers were in a life-threatening situation. But aid officials say that no warnings were given and no tear-gas was used before soldiers opened fire. They also point to the child killings. UNRWA, the United Nations aid agency in the occupied territories, has protested to the government and demanded an inquiry.

Beyond an eye for an eye, page 17

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