JERUSALEM (Feb. 15)
Israel is going ahead with plans to shelter temporarily 101 Moslem refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina, despite a last-minute rejection of the plan by the Arab Israeli villages that were supposed to host them.
The Bosnian refugees were expected to arrive here Tuesday afternoon on a flight from the Croatian capital of Zagreb, arranged by the European Jewish Congress.
On Monday, the European Jewish Congress received express written approval for the project from the Bosnian government and final preparations for the flight were being made.
The idea of absorbing Bosnian refugees in Israel was first suggested several months ago by heads of the Moslem community in Israel and was encouraged by Knesset member Yossi Sarid of the left-wing Meretz bloc, who visited the region.
Sarid continued his work on the project after he became minister of environment two months ago.
Last week, it was officially announced that 25 families, 101 refugees in all, would come to Israel and live in the Arab towns of Umm el-Fahm and Tira until the fighting subsided in Bosnia.
However, a committee of heads of the Arab community in Israel announced Sunday that it was no longer taking part in the project.
Although Arab leaders said they were backing out because the Bosnian government did not approve of the project, they were reportedly pressured to reject the plan by Palestinian nationalist groups.
The Palestine Liberation Organization supposedly asked the Israeli Arabs to refrain from involving themselves in a project that would make Israel look good at a time when it is suffering from international criticism over the Palestinians it deported in December to southern Lebanon.
After the Israeli Arabs withdrew their support, Sarid said he would continue his efforts on behalf of the refugees, provided the Bosnians approved the project in writing.
By Monday afternoon, Zlatko Lagumdzija, vice president of Bosnia, faxed a letter to the Tel Aviv office of the European Jewish Congress, approving the operation. The Bosnian government stressed, however, that the Moslems are to return once conditions improve at home.
Israeli Arab leaders said they would re-evaluate their position in light of the Bosnian government’s approval and denied they had withdrawn support because of outside pressure.
In Paris, an offer by the French Foreign Ministry to lend an airplane for the project was withdrawn at the last moment.
But Jean Kahn, head of the European Jewish Congress, was able to persuade Gilbert Trigano, the Jewish owner of the Club Med resort chain, to provide a plane and half the expenses.
The French government reportedly backed out of the agreement because it did not want to play a part in what might look like an Israeli public relations stunt. French television has also declined to cover the event.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Michel Di Paz in Paris.)