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Army Begins Releasing Palestinians Returned From Lebanon With AM-PLO-Israel, Bjt

December 20, 1993

NAHAL OZ CHECKPOINT, Occupied Gaza Strip (AP) _ The army began freeing Palestinians linked to militant Muslim groups Sunday, four days after they returned from a year’s forced exile in southern Lebanon.

″We are very happy to return to our homeland, the best land in the world. We hope our deportation will be the last,″ freed deportee Mahmud el Zahar told reporters as soldiers let him off a bus at this entrance to the Gaza Strip.

El Zahar and 196 other men linked to either the Hamas or Islamic Jihad groups returned last Wednesday. Israeli and Arab reports said 132 were being freed from jails Sunday.

The army confirmed only that former deportees were being freed after four days of questioning, but declined to give figures or comment on those remaining in jail.

Israeli media reports said more would be released Monday, while Arab reports said that 60 were likely to be put on trial for anti-Israeli actions.

The 197 were among about 415 men from the West Bank and Gaza Strip deported in retaliation for a wave of attacks on Israelis. Israel accused the men of being leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which were blamed for the attacks.

About 200 of the 415 were allowed back earlier this year, and almost all are now free. A few others decided to remain in Lebanon.

The men had spent the year camped out in Marj el Zohour, a barren sector just north of Israel’s self-styled ″security zone″ in southern Lebanon.

Lebanese authorities had refused to take them in, saying it wouldn’t be a dumping ground for Israel. The Jewish state agreed to allow all the men back within a year in response to an international outcry over the expulsions, which were denounced by the U.N. Security Council.

About 60 were released from Dahariya prison near the West Bank town of Hebron. Israel radio said 72 others would be released from other prisons late Sunday.

Dozens of relatives waited for the released men at army checkpoints or outside military offices. Reunions were reportedly delayed while the freed men were processed and reissued identification papers.

Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said each freed prisoner had to sign a statement forswearing ″terrorism.″

In Gaza City, soldiers stopped a taxi carrying three deportees and ordered the passengers to get out and face a wall with their hands above their heads.

The passengers in a car following the taxi, including this reporter, were also stopped and ordered to face the wall. Everyone was let go a short time later.

In the occupied Gaza Strip, two Palestinians were slain by fellow Arabs on suspicion of collaborating with Israel, Arab reports said.

The slayings brought to 774 the number of Palestinians killed by fellow Arabs during the 6-year uprising against Israel’s occupation of Arab lands. In addition, 1,191 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israelis, while 163 Israelis have died in the unrest.

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