Returning Palestinian Deportees Head To Israeli Enclave With AM-Mideast-Peace, Bjt
MARJ AL-ZOHOUR, Lebanon (AP) _ Nearly half the Palestinians expelled by Israel last winter ate a hearty breakfast and marched off to an Israeli army gate to begin their journey home Thursday.
Israel agreed to take back 189 of the 396 men who have been stranded in a rocky campsite since being banished from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The rest are to return by Dec. 17, the first anniversary of their banishment.
The joy of going home was tempered with uncertainty. Some of the returning Palestinians probably face detention camps or prison cells.
″We filled our stomachs to the brim. We don’t want to get hungry because we have no idea when we will reach our homes,″ said Mohammed Baroud, 43, of Gaza.
Most of the exiled men belong to the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas and others are associated with the Islamic Jihad in Palestine movement. Israel expelled them from the occupied territories after six Israeli troopers were killed in December.
Their banishment became an instant cause celebre and stalled Mideast peace talks for months. The deportees rejected Israel’s first offer - made under pressure from Washington - to shorten the terms of exile, but later reconsidered.
Since December, the men have camped in tents in a barren no man’s land between Israeli and Lebanese army lines in southern Lebanon. Lebanon refused to take them, saying it would not become a dumping ground for Palestinians expelled by Israel.
On Thursday, the men set off on foot on the 1 1/2 -mile trek to the Zommaraya gateway on the edge of the Israeli army’s self-styled ″security zone″ in south Lebanon.
They were accompanied part of the way by their comrades who cannot yet go home, in order to perform morning Islamic prayers together at the half-way point on the trek before those staying behind turned back to Marj al-Zohour.
At the Zommaraya entry point into the security zone, the men were to wait for Israeli soldiers to call their names.
Israeli authorities dispatched a letter to the deportees 24 hours earlier, spelling out the arrangements for their return.
The letter said each returning man was allowed to bring only one suitcase of clothing, washing items and documents. They were to cross the Zommaraya gateway one at a time. Israeli buses would be waiting for them.
Shortly before sundown Wednesday, a farewell parade led by drummers was staged at Marj al-Zohour. The marchers held Islam’s holy book, the Koran, and waved Palestinian flags.
They listened to speeches urging them to avoid inter-Palestinian violence when they get home, an allusion to the peace-making deal underway between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to initiate partial autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
″You have to be a unifying factor, advocates of dialogue, not violence. Palestinian blood is dear,″ said one speaker, Mohammed Hassan Shamaa, who was not returning on Thursday.
That was an allusion to fiery calls by some Syrian-backed guerrilla factions that have warned there could be a Palestinian civil war over the peace accord.
In the past few years, the secular PLO’s strength in Israeli-occupied territories has been eroded by the rise of Muslim fundamentalist groups, especially in Gaza.