JERUSALEM — Israeli security forces were reported Friday to have arrested hundreds more Arab youths in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin issued a tough warning that further unrest in the occupied territories would bring the Palestinians "suffering and pain."
The clampdown by security forces in the West Bank and Gaza appeared to have succeeded, at least temporarily, in stemming the wave of violence that has left at least 21 Palestinians dead in the last two weeks, by official count. There have been no deaths in three days.
But a new controversy appeared to be brewing over the prospect that a large number of detained Palestinians may be "deported" into exile in Jordan or southern Lebanon.
The daily Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest newspaper, said the army was preparing to deport "hundreds" of Palestinians who were deemed to have instigated the recent disturbances.
The deportation of hundreds or even dozens of Palestinians would be a significant departure from past Israeli practice, in which deportations were limited to a handful of those believed to represent the hard-core nationalist leadership. Such a move would almost certainly revive a debate within Israel about the notion of "transferring" the Palestinian problem to Jordan.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Defense Minister Rabin said that deportation of Palestinians accused of instigating the unrest was a legal option "and there is no question that this is a means that we could use."
In the past, deported Palestinians, usually singly or in pairs, were arrested and taken over the Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River, where they were taken in by Jordanian authorities.
But a spokesman for Jordan's Ministry of Occupied Territories said the Jordanian government "will take all necessary measures to stop any plan by the Israeli authorities for deporting people to the East Bank."
If Jordan refuses to receive Palestinians deported, the Israelis would be forced to send them over the border into southern Lebanon or to Geneva under the auspices of the International Red Cross.
Official spokesmen have given no precise accounting of the latest arrests, other than to say that the number detained is in "the hundreds."
Israeli newspapers said more than 1,000 Palestinians have been arrested in the last 72 hours. The East Jerusalem-based Palestine Press Service also put the figure at 1,000 and said that about 2,500 Arabs have been detained since the disturbances began in Gaza on Dec. 8.
Israel radio said nearly 600 youths were taken before military courts and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to eight months for first offenders and more than two years for repeat offenders. They are also being heavily fined.
The radio said that most of the youths between 14 and 16 years of age were released after their parents agreed to accept responsibility for them.
The authorities have opened a tent-prison at Dahariya south of the West Bank town of Hebron to handle the influx of prisoners in the West Bank while expanding facilities at the Ansar 2 prison in Gaza, where about 250 Palestinians have been detained in the last three days, the radio said.
The Palestine Press Service said the Farah jail near the West Bank town of Nablus, which held about 200 inmates before the disturbances, was now holding 750, while between 300 and 400 men were taken to the Dahariya camp.
In an apparent effort to avoid disturbances Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, security forces placed a daytime curfew on the Balata refugee camp near Nablus at 9 a.m., forcing residents to stay inside.
The curfew was apparently aimed at preventing residents from attending mosque services. In the last two weeks, the mosques have become a rallying point for expressions of Palestinian nationalism in the West Bank and Gaza.
In addition to the curfew at the Balata camp, the authorities kept the 64,000 residents of the Jabaliya camp in Gaza confined to the camp for the third successive day. Soldiers in the camp reportedly imposed brief curfews throughout the day to keep camp residents off the streets after mosque services were concluded.
But authorities announced that 800 schools in the occupied territories that had been closed because of the unrest would be allowed to reopen Sunday.
There are about 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt, respectively, in the 1967 Middle East War.
Rabin said the tough security measures in the occupied territories will continue "until there is stability," but he declined to predict a date for ending the strictures.
"My message to the inhabitants of the territories is clear: Terror and unrest will get you nothing, just suffering and pain," Rabin was quoted as saying. "The only way out of this is at the negotiating table. That no Israeli government has changed the legal status of the territories is absolute proof of our sincerity."