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2 Palestinians in West Bank Are Exiled by Israel

Mideast: The pair, accused of aiding their brother in an attack, are left in a remote Gaza Strip vineyard.


GAZA CITY — Clutching a zippered wallet and a small Koran, and with the dust of the Gaza Strip smudging her black head scarf, Intisar Ajouri stood on the sidewalk here Wednesday, exiled by Israel and looking for refuge at the Red Cross.

Intisar and her brother Kifah were expelled from the West Bank after Israel accused them of assisting another brother in a suicide bombing in July. An Israeli army vehicle dumped them in a remote vineyard.

In a landmark decision, the Israeli Supreme Court this week ruled that Israel can "relocate" the relatives of suspected militants if there is evidence that the family members were accomplices and pose a security threat.

Saying the measure serves as a deterrent, Israel previously has expelled people it regarded as terrorists but, until now, never their family.

On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined human rights groups in condemning such expulsions as a violation of international law.

The Ajouris, who lived in a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus, said the army placed them blindfolded and handcuffed in an armored personnel carrier, drove them deep into the Gaza Strip and dropped them off in an orchard.

They walked until they found a farmer, who warned them that they were within shooting range of nearby Jewish settlers and soldiers--in an area, in fact, where an Israeli tank shell killed four Palestinian civilians last month.

"They just threw us away in the grape groves," Intisar Ajouri said in an interview. "If we had gone just a few steps the other way, we would have been in serious danger."

The Ajouris said they went to a nearby house where the family gave them tea. Later, they were picked up by journalists and taken to the offices of a Palestinian human rights organization.

Intisar Ajouri, 34, insisted again that she is innocent, saying that if Israel could prove its allegation that she sewed the explosive belts for suicide bombers then the state should have put her on trial and convicted her.

"They are doing this to threaten people, to frighten people and to break their will," she said.

She and Kifah, a father of three, said they planned to stay with the International Committee of the Red Cross as a protest symbolizing their refusal to recognize Israel's right to expel them. The pair, who are to remain in exile for two years, spent their first night in Gaza at the agency's offices.

Israeli authorities staged an elaborate operation to avoid journalists and slip the Ajouris into Gaza. A convoy of military vehicles transported the pair from a prison in the West Bank to the Gaza Strip but sent a decoy vehicle through the main entrance at Erez crossing, where dozens of journalists waited.

The personnel carrier transporting the Ajouris then went over back roads and entered Gaza near the settlement of Netzarim. When journalists at Erez caught wind of the ruse, they made a high-speed dash through the chaotic streets of Gaza to reach the Ajouris.

At that point, the siblings were already wandering in the Gaza wilderness.

Israeli officials said such efforts were necessary because they were concerned that the Ajouris would resist being deported or make a scene, and Palestinian officials were saying they would not accept the pair. The Israeli army gave the siblings the equivalent of about $215 each and a change of clothing.

The Gaza Strip--fenced in and cut off by the army--is considered a prison by many of its more than 1 million residents, and there is little if any travel between the area and the West Bank. Expulsion from one to the other removes a Palestinian from his or her extended family in what is a clan-based society.

Palestinians and some Israeli human rights activists said they fear the army will use the court's sanctions to carry out large-scale deportations.

Polls show wide support among the Israeli public, however, for expulsions and other tough measures aimed at crushing a 23-month-old Palestinian uprising and ending a wave of suicide bombings.

The Supreme Court, meeting as an expanded nine-judge panel, apparently took public opinion into consideration while weighing both security issues and concern for human rights.

The decision "created a sense that the court understands the feelings and needs of the security establishment, and certainly understands the mood of the public that gnashes its teeth at the wave of suicide bombers," commentator Eitan Haber, a former aide to late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, wrote in an editorial Wednesday. "Its ruling was in the style of the Jewish folk tale: 'kosher, but stinks.' "

In another development Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hinted at what he called a "breakthrough" in efforts aimed at reviving a long-dead peace process. He also said he plans to meet with a high-level Palestinian in the coming days, his first such encounter since taking office 18 months ago.

"Now, for the first time, I see the possibility for a breakthrough for a political settlement," Sharon told Israeli television. "It won't be a simple thing or an easy thing, but there is a possibility."

The reason, he said, is a change of heart among the Palestinians.

"We see the beginnings of cracks on the Palestinian side," he said earlier in the day, "possibly the dawning of the recognition that Israel cannot be defeated by force."

Palestinian officials dismissed Sharon's speculation.

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