Last exiles return from Lebanon: PLO chief insists that delay in Israeli troop pull-out will not be repeated

THE LAST 197 of the 400 or so Palestinian Islamic militants expelled by Israel to south Lebanon a year ago were allowed back across the international boundary yesterday and taken straight off to be interrogated in Israeli jails, writes Charles Richards.

When they were banished, there were those who predicted it would kill Middle East peace efforts.

In the event, their exile had little effect and the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel reached their historic accord on 13 September after months of secret diplomacy in Oslo.

The Israelis said that the returning men would be released within a few days. Israel had already taken back 200, and 18 slipped into Lebanon to avoid completing long jail terms.

Yesterday the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said he would be watching the men and would kick them out again if he deemed it necessary. 'We will not hesitate to take tough measures against them if we have the slightest suspicion that they intend or are involved in (violent activity),' he said in the Gaza Strip, home to most of the deportees.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops shot and wounded 10 Palestinians, according to Palestinian sources. Witnesses said that four were shot in a car which was taking one of the wounded to hospital.

In the Egyptian town of El Arish, Israel and the PLO resumed negotiations yesterday on the transfer of civilian powers in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. These talks were one of two sets not disrupted by the delay in the implementation of the accord, due to have begun on Monday.

The two teams were due to continue discussing transport and electricity issues.

In London, the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, on his first visit to Britain, repeated his wish to see a 'quick implementation, an accurate implementation and an honest implementation of what was agreed' in the accord. Yet he insisted the PLO should have some control, with international supervision, of the crossing-points from Egypt and Jordan into the areas to be given some Palestinian autonomy. He made clear that the 10-day delay in Israeli troop withdrawals - beyond 13 December - should not be a precedent for further delays. 'I hope the 10 days are going to be enough, so that afterwards we may be capable of implementing the agreement - implementing it very carefully and very honestly at the same time.'

Soldier's story, page 23

(Photograph omitted)