TEL AVIV (Dec. 15)
Amid angry protests from government opposition members and demonstrators, the final group of Palestinians deported last year to southern Lebanon has been allowed to return to the administered territories.
The 197 deportees returning Wednesday had been part of a larger group of 415 members of the Islamic fundamentalist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad who were deported from Israel last December following a series of attacks by Muslim extremists within Israel.
The deportations had been ordered in an effort to cripple the infrastructure of the two movements.
In September, 181 of the deportees had been allowed to return to the territories. Some of the Palestinians who had been deported refused to return to Israel, fearing they would then face jail sentences.
Police held back some 70 Israeli demonstrators who had gathered at the border to block the buses carrying the returning deportees.
Likud Knesset member Tzachi Hanegbi, the leader of the protest, believed the returnees would soon be involved in new terrorist attacks against Israelis.
“Two hundred terrorists are being given the opportunity to strike again,” he said.
Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni, a dovish member of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government, had originally supported the return of the deportees. But on Wednesday she called the move a mistake.
But Rabin stood by his government’s decision and vowed to get tough if there were any signs of the deportees’ involvement in terrorist activity.
DEPORTEES TO SPEND THREE DAYS IN DETENTION
“We will not hesitate to take tough measures against them if we have the slightest suspicion that they intend or are involved in” terrorist acts, he said.
The Palestinians had originally been deported for a period of two years, but in the wake of international pressure, particularly from the United States, the term was reduced to a single year. Some of the group were allowed to return in the fall.
On Wednesday, the last of the deportees gathered up their belongings and walked to the northern border of the security zone, where a dozen buses, their windows covered by sheets or painted over, transported them to the Israel-Lebanon border.
All will spend the next 72 hours at Israel Defense Force detention centers in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Those who had been deported from Israeli prisons will be required to complete their sentences. The rest will be allowed to return to their homes.
Opposition members in the Knesset strongly protested the return.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu described the release as a “folly.”
“I would never have given way to American or other pressure on this question,” he said.
Rabin told his Knesset critics that the government would take steps to separate unrepentant terrorists from the others and to ensure that they would not resume their hostile activities.