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U.S. Protests Israel’s Plan to Deport More Palestinians : Diplomacy: Washington says the action could jeopardize efforts to bring about peace in the Mideast.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Bush Administration on Monday angrily protested Israel’s effort to deport more Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, suggesting that the action could jeopardize efforts to bring about peace between Israel and its neighbors.

In response to a series of stabbing attacks by Palestinians since the beginning of the Persian Gulf War in mid-January, in which seven Jews were killed, Israel over the weekend ordered the deportation of four Palestinians that it claims are members of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Israeli announcement touched off rioting in a Palestinian refugee camp.

“Israel’s decision to deport Palestinians at this time cannot possibly contribute to the development of a peace process,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Monday. “We hope the government of Israel does not go forward with this decision.”

State Department officials delivered two separate diplomatic protests over the deportation order, one to Zalman Shoval, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and the other to the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

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The Bush Administration considers the Israeli move especially sensitive, U.S. officials say, because it comes only a week after Secretary of State James A. Baker III returned from his first Middle East trip since the end of the Persian Gulf War.

Baker, who had never before visited Israel as secretary of state, urged the Israelis to take a series of new “confidence-building measures” to help bring about peace with their neighbors.

State Department officials never have made public exactly what steps Baker recommended, but it is possible that one of them was to halt the expulsions of Palestinians from the occupied territories. Over the last five years, Israel has deported 62 Palestinian activists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials showed no sign Monday of being ruffled by the harsh U.S. criticism.

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“We know that the American government takes issue with this punishment,” Defense Minister Moshe Arens said. “The difference between us is that we must contend with the problems of unrest, violence and murder here in the field. They (the Americans) have an advantage that they can observe these subjects at a distance.”

“Terrorist activities have grown bigger and bigger inside Israel since the war,” said Ruth Yaron, speaking for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “A peace process has to start from both ends. . . . One way to build confidence and trust would be to stop this violence” in the occupied territories.

One senior Administration official admitted Monday that Israeli officials gave no ground when confronted with the U.S. diplomatic protests.

The four Palestinians Israel wants to deport are all young men in their 30s living in the Gaza Strip. They have not been charged with the stabbings but with membership in Fatah, which is an outlawed organization in Israel.

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They have the right to appeal the deportation order to an Israeli military court this week and also could try to take their cases to Israel’s Supreme Court. However, if these appeals fail, the four would be stripped of any legal right to live in Israeli-held territory.

U.S. officials maintain that these deportations under the direction of Israeli military officials violate international law. “The United States believes that charges of wrongdoing should be brought in a court of law based on evidence to be argued in a public trial,” Tutwiler asserted at Monday’s State Department briefing.

Israeli officials countered that the four Palestinians in question have already been jailed for previous offenses.

“We’re not looking for scapegoats. These are people with a rich criminal record,” Yaron said Monday. “These are not people merely following orders. They were issuing orders. We resort to this kind of rough tactics because we believe that sometimes they are useful, to make a point.”

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During his visit to Israel, Baker had to cancel plans to walk through the Old City of Jerusalem after a Palestinian from Gaza stabbed and killed four Jerusalem women. However, Baker did meet with a 10-member Palestinian delegation. Most of the delegates came from Fatah, the PLO faction controlled by Yasser Arafat. Israeli officials contend that Fatah is behind a recent series of stabbings in the occupied territories.

Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Sharon called Monday for the mass expulsion of Palestinian activists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We simply must send beyond our borders whoever incites murder day in and day out,” said Sharon, one of the most hawkish members of the ruling Likud Party.

Times staff writer Daniel Williams in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

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