Israel Standing Firm on Denying Relief Groups Access to Deportees

Israel is standing firmly by its decision to deny international relief agencies access through Israeli-held territory to the 415 Moslem fundamentalists it expelled to southern Lebanon on Dec. 17.

Relief agencies such as the Red Cross have been seeking to send food and medical assistance to the deportees, who are stranded on a snowy strip of land between Israeli and Lebanese army checkpoints in southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese government, which refuses to accept responsibility for the deportees, has denied the Red Cross and other groups access to the no-man’s land since early last week. At a special Cabinet meeting last Friday, Israeli ministers decided not to permit these agencies access through the buffer security zone it controls along the border in Lebanon.

The Israeli government’s position was made clear to visiting U.N. Undersecretary-General James Jonah by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who held separate meetings with him Sunday.

Jonah, who was dispatched to the region at the request of the U.N. Security Council, was expected to travel on to Lebanon, where he hoped to visit the deportees, so as to assess their situation firsthand.

Meanwhile, Israel’s High Court of Justice on Sunday gave the government 72 hours to reply to an appeal of the Cabinet’s decision barring humanitarian aid to the deportees, lodged by Knesset member Abdel Wahab Darawshe of the Arab Democratic Party.

Darawshe claims Israel is bound by international conventions to permit Red Cross to convey food and medical aid to the deportees.

The Cabinet adopted its position against allowing such aid at a special session last Friday afternoon that developed into something of a standoff between Rabin and Peres. It was the first outright clash between these two longtime Labor Party rivals since the present government was established last summer.

Peres headed a group of six ministers who supported allowing the Red Cross through. The group also included Moshe Shahal and Uzi Baram of Labor, and the three ministers of Labor’s left-wing coalition partner, the Meretz bloc: Shulamit Aloni, Amnon Rubinstein and Yair Tsaban.

But a majority of eight voted, at the premier’s suggestion, to reject the Red Cross application. Two Labor ministers, Ora Namir and Haim Ramon, abstained, and a third, Justice Minister David Libai, was abroad.

Official sources said the Friday split was in no way articulated at Peres’ meeting Sunday with the U.N. undersecretary.

The foreign minister had been visiting Japan when the Cabinet agreed to the deportations. He has since let it be known privately that he is unhappy over the move, but publicly he has accepted collective responsibility for it.

In his meeting with Jonah, the foreign minister reportedly explained at length both the rationale for the original deportation decision and for last Friday’s decision to block Red Cross aid through Israel.

He also complained about the “one-sidedness” of the Dec. 18 U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the deportation. He said it made no mention of the circumstances leading up to the expulsion: the rising wave of terrorism culminating in the brutal murder of kidnapped border policeman Nissim Toledano.

“Our intention was to create a real barrier to persons bent on killing the peace process,” Peres was quoted as telling the U.N. envoy.

He stressed the deportees’ right to petition appeal boards, which are empowered to readmit them to the administered territories or reduce the duration of their expulsion.

Informed sources in Jerusalem have said they expect dozens of the deportees to be readmitted by these appeal boards. In certain cases, they say, the authorities know already that the deportations were not justified and occurred as a result of the extreme pressure under which the mass deportation was organized.

Darawshe’s petition to the High Court has exacerbated an already fragile relationship between the government and the five Knesset members of the two Arab parties, whose tacit support is important for the stability of the governing coalition.

Prime Minister Rabin met with three of the five in his office Sunday evening, together with Finance Minister Avraham Shohat.

At first, the premier refused to shake the hand of Knesset member Hashem Mahmid of the Hadash Communist party, because of allegations that he had urged Arabs to commit acts of violence against Israel during a visit last week to the Gaza Strip.

Mahmid told the premier the allegations were not true. But the Knesset House Committee was set to consider a proposal by right-wing politicians that the lawmaker’s immunity be abrogated so that he could be prosecuted.

Rabin sought to persuade the Arab lawmakers that he is pressing ahead with the peace process. In a speech over the weekend, the premier said he was confident of reaching an agreement with one of the parties, probably Syria, during the year ahead.

But the Arab Knesset members emerged from the meeting with Rabin despondent, saying there was no movement regarding the deportees. They threatened not only to withdraw their support from the coalition, but to submit a no-confidence motion in the Knesset this week.

NEXT STORY