JERUSALEM (Jan. 10)
The International Committee of the Red Cross balked Sunday at flying back nine deportees to Israel from a tent camp in Lebanon, insisting that both Jerusalem and Beirut first build better accommodations for more than 400 Moslem fundamentalists stranded there.
But Israel continued to make gestures of conciliation as a U.N. envoy arrived over the weekend to underline a Dec. 18 Security Council resolution calling on Jerusalem to take back the deportees.
Red Cross refusal to fly back nine deportees that Israel said were expelled by mistake was the latest development in a standoff between Israel and Lebanon over responsibility for the Hamas and Islamic Jihad Moslem fundamentalists deported by Jerusalem over three weeks ago.
But the Red Cross was able to complete the original mission to which Israel had agreed last week.
On Saturday, a two-member Red Cross team, flying a U.N. helicopter, retrieved a 16-year-old boy, Bassam Sayouri, whose expulsion had been a case of mistaken identity, and a deportee suffering from a kidney ailment, who was transferred to a hospital in the Israeli-controlled security zone for treatment.
They flew over Israeli-held territory in southern Lebanon under what Jerusalem had described as a “one-time” easing in its policy of denying aid to the deportees through areas controlled by Israel.
But a second mission to retrieve the other deportees that Israel had agreed to accept was aborted Sunday when the Red Cross pressed its demand that Israel and Lebanon build a more permanent structure for the deportees.
A further softening on Israel’s part was evident, however, when the Cabinet decided Sunday to drop a 60-day time limit on appeals to the military appeals board of their Dec. 17 expulsion. They now have no deadline for appeal.
Israel also suggested an alternative to Red Cross transport in bringing back the nine fundamentalists disqualified for deportation by earlier charges pending against them.
It said that cooperation with Lebanon could bring about their return the same way they came, through the Zemraya crossing in the security zone.
Gen. Antoine Lahad, commander of the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army, said ailing deportees could be hospitalized at the Marjayoun hospital in the buffer zone.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin also said at the Cabinet session Sunday that he would “check with the Shin Bet” security service whether some longtime deportees — expelled before the mass deportation of over 400 fundamentalist activists might be allowed to return.
Rabin’s statement came in response to a question by Energy Minister Amnon Rubinstein, of the left-wing Meretz bloc, whose party rank and file has opposed leadership support of the deportations.
Another Cabinet dove, Tourism Minister Uzi Baram, of Labor, suggested Israel continue to extend humanitarian gestures to the deportees.
U.N. envoy Chinmaya Gharekhan met with Rabin on Sunday before flying to Lebanon and then on to New York to report on his mission to the Security Council.
Despite Israeli efforts to ease the atmosphere, a wide gap remains between Jerusalem and the United Nations over the issue of the deportees.
Gharekhan made clear his intention was to implement Security Council Resolution 799 and bring about the return of the deportees.
He told Foreign Minister Shimon Peres over the weekend that the United Nations wished to avoid a confrontation with Israel over the issue, but that he had not come merely to discuss humanitarian gestures toward the deportees.
Israel was still hoping for “a fair” report by the U.N. envoy which would lead to a moderately worded resolution at the Security Council.
Officials said a sharply worded statement could lead to “serious disruptions” in the peace process by making it difficult for the Arabs to return to peace negotiations, due to resume in Washington next month.
Israel received support for this position in New York on Friday, when the American ambassador to the United Nations, Edward Perkins, told his Israeli counterpart, Gad Yaacobi, that the criticism of Israel expressed in a Jan 3 letter from U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was “unhelpful and unnecessary.”
An official with the Israeli U.N. mission said the Israelis were assured that America will act to avoid a Security Council resolution calling for sanctions on Israel. If such a resolution does come to a vote, said the official, the United States will veto it.
Meanwhile, tension continued in the territories over the weekend.
In one of the bloodiest rounds of killings recently, five Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel were assassinated by extremists in the Gaza Strip.
A general strike was also in effect in Gaza on Sunday, in solidarity with the deportees.
The 16-year-old who was returned to Israel received a warm welcome when he arrived early Sunday morning at his home in Hebron. His release was seen in the city as a victory for Hamas and residents expressed confidence that more deportees would return.
(Staff writer Larry Yudelson in New York contributed to this report.)