Palestinian Deportees Return Home After Long Exile
JERICHO, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Fourteen Palestinians deported by Israel returned home to the occupied lands today as part of a package of Israeli gestures to get the Middle East peace talks moving.
The activists, expelled between 1967 and 1987, crossed from Jordan into the West Bank over the Allenby Bridge shortly after 3 p.m., Israeli officials said.
The army closed the bridge area, and soldiers ordered about 300 well- wishers waiting at a bus terminal between the bridge and the town of Jericho to leave and hold the reception at the nearby refugee camp of Aqabat Jaber.
Relatives awaited the returnees in cars decorated with carnations, ribbons and palm leaves. Banners spread across the Jericho marketplace read: ″Welcome home, deportees.″
Israel has agreed to take back 30 long-term deportees. The first group of 15 returned Friday to an emotional welcome. The 30th, Mahmoud Qadri, is in Bulgaria and is expected to return later.
Several of today’s returnees were in their 70s and had been in exile for more than 25 years. Four Palestinian officials, including peace talks adviser Zahira Kamel, greeted them on the Jordanian side of the frontier.
″We hope that this will be the starting point for peace,″ Kamel said as the returnees were given an emotional sendoff by friends and relatives shouting, ″We’ll see you in our homeland.″
Among those returning was Rohi Khattib, 75, the former mayor of Arab east Jerusalem who was deported shortly after Israeli troops seized that part of the city in the 1967 Middle East war. Khattib is a member of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians’ self-styled parliament in exile.
Also among the returnees was Walid Kamhawi, a 70-year-old surgeon from Nablus and a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ruling executive committee who was deported in 1970. He is also a member of the Palestine National Council.
Since 1967, Israel has deported more than 2,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories. Most live in Jordan.
More than 4 million Palestinians now live outside the occupied lands, including many who were displaced by the 1948 and 1967 Middle East wars.