Palestinian deportees confronted by tanks

CONFRONTED by tanks and with two of their number wounded by Israeli mortars, the 418 Palestinian deportees dumped in Lebanon by the Israelis retreated last night to their tent encampment on a bare mountainside, as the Israeli government continued to ignore the growing international outcry over their plight.

The Palestinians had earlier tried to walk back into the Israeli occupation zone in southern Lebanon - in the direction of their homes in the West Bank and Gaza - but were halted by gunmen from Israel's proxy Lebanese militia who fired around the deportees with machine guns, assault rifles and mortars. The militiamen, who are armed, trained, paid and commanded by Israelis, laid a minefield across the roadway just outside the occupied zone to prevent the Palestinians from advancing further.

Two young deportees, Sulieman Kawasmi and Amjad Zamel, were wounded by mortar fragments, one of them in the face, when they tried to shelter behind rocks as the shellfire exploded around them. The militiamen drove two tanks towards the unarmed Palestinians - many of them academics, doctors, lawyers and accountants sympathetic to the extreme Islamic Hamas movement in the occupied territories - while two Israeli helicopters circled overhead. In response, the Palestinians stood in the freezing rain, some of them praying, and waved copies of the Koran.

Yesterday's confrontation began after Lebanon announced that the deportees would no longer be permitted to remain in their encampment between the Israeli and Lebanese frontlines inside Lebanon, a decision applauded by the Palestinians themselves. With journalists and photographers accompanying them, the deportees then trudged two miles south towards the Israelis, to be met - as they must have known they would be - by the Israeli-controlled militiamen.

As a military gesture to prevent the Palestinians returning, it could be counted a success. But television pictures of the Palestinians being greeted by gunfire and tanks are likely to ensure a propaganda disaster for Israel. After deporting the men in retaliation for the murder of an Israeli border guard by Hamas, the Israelis apparently believed that the Palestinians would be allowed into Lebanon - as other deportees have in the past - by the hitherto impotent administration in Beirut. But the Israelis clearly took no account of the determination of Lebanon's new Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, nor of his government's ability to impose its will in southern Lebanon.

What was supposed to be a demonstration of Israel's resolution to smash Palestinian militants in the occupied territories is becoming an international scandal, with the US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, describing the deportatiuons as 'a terrible step'. If, however, the Israelis intend to keep the deportees in Lebanon, it is difficult to imagine the Lebanese authorities backing down. Mr Hariri yesterday expressed his sympathy for the deportees but said that his country would not be a dumping ground for Israel to deport men from their homes in the West Bank and Gaza. About half-a-million Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon.

Until yesterday, the International Red Cross was the only aid agency allowed by Lebanon to assist the deportees. But late yesterday Franke De Jonge, Coordinator of Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency, said President Hariri had told the agencies they would no longer be allowed to provide the deportees with emergency aid.

Last night, the deportees were talking of another attempt to enter the Israeli occupation zone - what the Israelis call their 'security zone' - and suggesting that they preferred 'martyrdom' to remaining on the mountainside. 'We won't live in tents for the rest of our lives,' one of their leaders, Aziz Dweik, said. 'We don't like camps. We don't want to be labelled refugees. We are determined to return home or face martyrdom.'

The deportees oppose the Middle East peace talks and their stand in Lebanon is a deep embarrassment to Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, whose only response so far has been to 'suspend' the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis to which he gave his support last year.

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
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • 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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

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'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power