JERUSALEM (Apr. 4)
Officials here sought to rebut today a charge by the Reagan Administration that Israel violated international law when it transferred some 1,100 inmates of the Ansar camp in south Lebanon to a new detention camp inside Israel.
The Ansar camp is being demolished as the Israel Defense Force continues its phased withdrawal from south Lebanon. The transfer of the inmates, persons suspected of having participated in attacks on the IDF, was effected Tuesday. Yesterday, the Israelis released 752 other detainees, suspected members of hostile organizations, who were allowed to return to their home villages in Lebanon.
State Department spokesperson Kathleen Lang read a statement in Washington yesterday charging that Israel has apparently violated Articles 49,76 and 77 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners in occupied territories. Similar charges were leveled by the International Red Cross in Geneva yesterday.
Israeli officials contended that the State Department had not sufficiently studied the legal and factual aspects of the case.
U.S. ADMINISTRATION STATEMENT
The Washington statement said, “We’ve consistently taken the position that the Fourth Geneva Convention applied to areas of Lebanon under Israeli occupation. According to (Art. 49) the Convention, protected persons are to be detained only within the occupied territory. Their transfer to the territory of the occupying power is prohibited regardless of motive.”
Article 49 adds that “Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.”
Article 76 says “Protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted, shall serve their sentences there.” Arti- cle 77 says those persons accused of or convicted for offenses “shall be handed over at the close of occupation, with the relevant records, to the authorities of the liberated territories.”
ISRAEL’S RESPONSE TO CHARGE
But Israeli officials today cited the same articles referred to by the State Department. They argued that these articles can be interpreted as permitting the temporary transfer of “protected persons” from an occupied country to the country of the occupier when there are pressing material reasons to do so.
The Israelis contend that Art. 49, while forbidding “transfers and deportations”, adds that “the occupying power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.”
These evacuations, moreover, may be to the occupier’s country “when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement.” According to the Israelis, this provision was applicable to the Ansar detainess.
The Israelis rebutted arguments based on Art. 76 providing that persons accused or convicted of offenses serve their sentences in the occupied country. They pointed out that Israel did not set up a judicial system in south Lebanon because it never regarded its presence there as an occupation. The prisoners at Ansar were administrative detainees, the Israelis said.
They added that those now transferred to Israel would continue to enjoy all the rights prescribed by the Geneva Convention, including visits by the IRC and would also have the right under Israeli law to appeal against their continued detention beyond three months from the date of their transfer to Israel. The appeal boards set up under the law are headed by district court (civilian) judges.
The Israelis claimed further that the prisoners transferred to Israel enjoyed much better physical conditions than could have been provided for them had they been transferred to another camp in south Lebanon.
IRC IS QUICK TO ACCUSE ISRAEL
(The IRC announced in Geneva yesterday that their representatives in Israel had been notified only on April 2 that the Ansar camp was to be closed. Over 700 prisoners were handed over to the IRC on April 3 and over 1,000 detainees were transferred to Israel. Israel told the IRC that the latter would eventually be taken back to Lebanese territory. Nevertheless, the IRC publicly accused Israel of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention.
(Sources close to the IRC in Geneva told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the IRC had been taken by surprise by the rapidity of the transfer of the Ansar prisoners. They claim they now have no access to the 1,000-plus prisoners in Israeli territory.
(A question remains as to why the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), traditionally discreet and careful in issuing condemnations, decided to publish its charges so quickly, blemishing Israel’s image. There has been no immediate reaction from the Israeli delegation to the United Nations in Geneva.)