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Israel to Deport 15 Palestinians

The decision to expel the prisoners, alleged to be members of militant groups, to Gaza draws criticism. Those chosen have two days to appeal.

October 15, 2003|Megan K. Stack | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — The Israeli army ordered 15 Palestinian prisoners expelled to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, reviving a rare, controversial punishment and drawing the immediate ire of Palestinians and human rights groups.

The prisoners were being held without trial on secret charges stemming from their alleged membership in armed Palestinian factions. They were expected to appeal and have two days to do so. They have already been rounded up and moved to a lockup at the checkpoint on the Gaza-Israel border, where some of them met with an Israeli Arab lawyer Tuesday afternoon.

Palestinians seethed over what many saw as yet another hindrance in a stalled peace process. "This is a flagrant obstruction of any effort to restore calm," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Korei told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Last year, the brother and sister of a suicide bomber were taken to Gaza and released in a much-publicized banishment. The pair were ejected after an emotional legal battle forced the Jewish state to ponder how far it was willing to go to shield itself from suicide bombings and shooting attacks. In the end, Israel decided the expulsion was a way to stave off future attacks.

The names of the prisoners ordered expelled Tuesday were kept secret, but military sources said they were members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Tanzim and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all armed resistance organizations.

All of them were due to be released this month. They couldn't be put on trial "due to limitations of revealing intelligence sour- ces," a statement from the Israeli army said.

The prisoners hadn't been directly involved in attacks, the military said, and didn't have "blood on their hands."

"I very much hope these deportations will come before the high court, because they don't appear to meet the standards," said Jessica Montell, executive director of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. "If they've been in administrative detention, then they're not the ones planning attacks."

Israel called Tuesday's ordered expulsions "residence assignment," and said they were valid under international law. "The term appears in the Geneva Conventions, it isn't our invention," military legal chief Daniel Reisner told Israel Radio. "This will be effective in hampering their capacity to engage in terror."

Although Gaza and the West Bank together comprise the Palestinian territories, many Palestinians argue that the impenetrable fences and checkpoints that encase Gaza render such expulsions nearly as difficult as being sent to a foreign country.

"There is no difference between moving them outside or inside as long as this is affecting their personal lives, their economic and social lives," said Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

But Reisner said the ordered two-year expulsions were in some ways preferable to administrative detention, a system in which Palestinians are held in cramped detention camps and jails on secret charges for renewable, six-month stretches.

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