Smuggled food gives hope to deportees

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The Independent Online
MARJ AL-ZOHOUR, Lebanon - Palestinians stranded in a tent city between Israeli and Lebanese troops received smuggled supplies yesterday that eased a food shortage. The supplies, smuggled on donkeys across mountain trails to the no man's land in south-eastern Lebanon, coincided with the arrival in Jerusalem of a United Nations envoy trying to end the ordeal of the men expelled by Israel 11 days ago.

The 415 Palestinians spent the day trying to keep warm in their snow-blanketed camp and appealing for the evacuation of a seriously wounded comrade. They cheered when a donkey entered their makeshift Jerusalem Camp for Rapid Return at about noon carrying dozens of cans containing peas, beans, jam, cheese and yoghurt as well as eggs, bread and a skinned calf.

Villagers from the central Bekaa Valley, renowned for smuggling goods across the border with neighbouring Syria, also walked across olive groves carrying plastic canisters of fuel for the Palestinians' heaters.

After unloading the supplies into their tent warehouse, the refugees started cooking potatoes and meat using butane gas cylinders apparently smuggled before daylight. Hussein Abu Koweit, the Palestinians' storekeeper, said the supplies were smuggled by 'sympathisers'.

A Lebanese army officer at the Marj al-Zohour checkpoint, three miles north of the camp, said it was impossible to prevent smuggling across the chain of mountains overlooking the no man's land abutting Israel's self-proclaimed 'security zone'. He said villagers passing through his checkpoint could transport supplies claiming they were for their personal use.

Israel expelled the Palestinians on 17 December after six Israeli servicemen were killed. Lebanon refused to accept the Palestinians, mostly supporters of the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, saying it did not want to become a 'dumping ground' for people expelled by Israel.

Lebanon and Israel have refused to let humanitarian organisations supply food, water, heating fuel, medicine and other needs.

A United Nations Under-Secretary-General, James Jonah, arrived in Israel in an effort either to persuade the Jewish state to take the Palestinians back or allow humanitarian organisations to provide them with supplies. But a spokesman for the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said the expulsion order was 'a sovereign decision of Israel. It's a final decision and it's not up for discussion.'

Israel Radio said Mr Jonah would not be allowed to visit the Palestinians through the security zone. It could not be determined whether Lebanon would allow him access.

A doctor in the camp, Omar Farawneh, said fellow exile Amjad Zamel, suffering from shrapnel wounds in the jaw, was in 'a critical condition'.

'Brother Zamel's wounds are infected and he might lose his lower jaw. We plead with the UN Secretary-General to help us in evacuating him to any place, be it Lebanon or Israel. He needs surgery,' Dr Farawneh said.