Palestinians say court ruling is setback to peace

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ISRAEL'S Supreme Court ruling yesterday which upheld the deportation of 413 Palestinians was described as a victory by the government, but dismayed Palestinian leaders who said the decision further undermined any chance of re-starting the peace process.

The court ruling also appeared to have increased the threat of a debate in the United Nations Security Council on whether to impose sanctions against Israel.

The immediate effect of the court's unanimous ruling is that the deportees, suspected by Israel of supporting Islamic militant groups, will have to stay put in no man's land in southern Lebanon.

However, the ruling provided a field day for Israeli and Palestinian lawyers who were last night still puzzling over the wider implications of the judgment, which, while supporting Mr Rabin in practice, also criticised the blanket powers he used to enforce the order on 16 December.

The judges said the emergency military order under which the mass deportation was carried out was illegal. But they also ruled that separate deportation orders, made against each deportee individually under existing emergency regulations, could stand as long as the Palestinians were given a right of appeal in person.

As far as Palestinian leaders, and human rights lawyers were concerned the result was all that mattered. They pointed out that the judgment took no account of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which says that all such deportations are illegal. Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian peace team, said the judgment 'reinforces Israel's right to mass deportation'.

Leah Tzemel, a lawyer battling against the expulsions, called the 32-page decision a 'catastrophe' that could be used to justify mass expulsions, and a crime under international law.

Last night attention switched to the diplomatic implications of the decision. Earlier this week the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, held out the clear threat of a UN sanctions resolution against Israel if the deportees were not returned home. Western diplomats said last night that time was running out for Israel.

In Tunis, the Palestine Liberation Organisation called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to impose sanctions. A PLO spokesman, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said the group did not recognise the court's ruling. 'The government of Israel has brought the peace process to a total impasse and bears the responsibility for hindering the negotiations,' he said. He described the ruling as a 'true farce' and said the veridct was political.

'The Israeli government on one hand refuses to recognise that the Palestinian lands are occupied territory, and on the other hand uses laws dating from the British mandate to justify its acts of repression and collective deportations,' he added. The British legislation was in fact revoked when the mandate ended in 1948.

The Israeli government continued to place its faith in the new US administration to defuse any threat of sanctions. Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said he did not believe sanctions would be imposed by anybody.

Within hours of the ruling the Israeli authorities were instituting an appeals procedure for the deportees in accordance with the court's instructions. Some legal experts predicted that international concern would be eased if the deportees were returned to Israel for their appeals. However, there was little sign of this last night when planning for the appeals from the Palestinians' camp took on the character of high farce.

It was announced that at 10am today an officer of the Israeli army would be at Zemraya Gate, an entrance to Israel's self-declared security zone, about two miles south of the camp, to meet a representative of the deportees, whom Israel expects to have arrived on foot from the camp with a list of the names of those who wish to make an appeal.

However, Oded Ben-Ami, an Israeli spokesman, said the deportees had not been formally told of the arrangement by any government official or international body. The government said the International Committee of the Red Cross would be informed of the arrangement, but last night a spokesman for the Red Cross in Tel Aviv said no contact had been made. 'They will know about the arrangements because they have been listening to the radio,' said Mr Ben-Ami.

In making the trek to the Zemraya Gate, the deportees' representative would be in no danger, said Mr Ben-Ami, who dismissed reports that the area was mined.

Once the list of names had been presented, the Israeli officer would convey it to the deportees' lawyers and the appeals committees, to be made up of lawyers and officers from the legal wing of the Defence Ministry. Where the committees would sit to hear the appeals, should they materialise, was, however, not clear, as the Supreme Court ruling was not precise on whether they would have to be inside Israel proper. This led to speculation that the appeals could be set up inside the 'security zone' in southern Lebanon. 'The officer receiving the names will find the committee. He will know where they are,' said Mr Ben-Ami.

Adding further confusion, the spokesman for the deportees in south Lebanon rejected any possibility that the Palestinians would use the Israeli appeals system. 'I swear to God Israel will be sorry for what it has done. This decision will bring destruction and curses on Israel,' said Abdul Aziz al- Rantisi, speaking in the rain and biting cold. 'We will die here among the rocks . . . We will stay here pouring curses on Rabin, his government and his state.'

(Photograph omitted)