As 415 deported Palestinians shuttled across a no-man's-land in southern Lebanon, trying to regain entry to Israel but retreating in the face of gunfire, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Monday defended his government's much-criticized decision to expel them.
He declared that Israel is ready to take even tougher measures to cope with guerrilla attacks.
Rabin, angered by the international condemnation of the mass deportation, made it clear that Israel, as always, will do what it feels it must to ensure its security.
"This government will fight any manifestation of violence and terror, and it will not allow either Hamas or the Islamic Jihad to harm citizens of Israel," Rabin said of the two militant Muslim groups to which most of the deportees reportedly belong. "It will take all legal steps at its disposal to battle these murderous terrorist organizations.
"Israel will not let itself be bound, either by hand or foot. . . . When it comes to our own security, and the security of our children, only we will decide what is best for us," Rabin said.
Although he also spoke of Israel's desire for peace with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab nations, he was resolute in rejecting the criticism at home as well as from abroad that his government had blundered badly in deporting the Palestinians and handed them a propaganda weapon.
"Our hand which is extended toward real peace is the same hand that will pull the trigger to strike the murderers in their sinful deeds," Rabin told the Knesset, Israel's Parliament.
Asserting that the deportees are safely on Lebanese territory now and have become propaganda tools, Rabin declared firmly, "We will not permit them to return."
But Israel's Supreme Court, concerned about the safety of the Palestinians, delayed until today a ruling on appeals by deportees' families for their return. Civil rights lawyers argued that the deportees remain Israel's responsibility until accepted by Lebanon and that their lives are now endangered in the no-man's-land.
The deportees tried twice Monday to re-enter Israel's self-proclaimed "security zone," a strip stretching north of the Israeli border about nine miles into southern Lebanon. But they were repulsed both times by the South Lebanon Army, a local militia allied to Israel. Two Palestinians were wounded.
"I have no pity in my heart, nor do I shed tears," Rabin said of the deportees' plight.
According to a Reuters news agency correspondent reporting from Zemraya in southern Lebanon, the South Lebanon Army fired tank and antiaircraft shells around the deportees Monday afternoon when they made their second attempt to enter Israeli-controlled territory in south Lebanon. They had advanced only a few yards toward the security zone before five tank shells fell about 100 yards away.
One Palestinian was wounded in the hand. Earlier, a deportee was hit in the jaw by shrapnel when the South Lebanon Army fired warning shots with machine guns, antiaircraft guns and mortars. Tanks and armored personnel carriers blocked their path, and Israeli troops laid mines across the approaches to the Israeli security zone.
As night fell, Israel began moving commando units into the region, according to sources here, and more reinforcements were flown north by helicopter as Israel prepared a show of force.
On Monday morning, the Palestinians, who have been stranded at a tent camp since their expulsion by Israel on Friday, were ordered by Lebanese troops to pack up and return to the Israeli-held zone. Carrying bags on their backs and clutching copies of the Koran, the deportees were told by one leader that they had nothing to lose, despite the likelihood that Israeli forces would turn them back and might open fire.
"I told them, 'We are going to try to return. If we die, we are going to paradise, and the ugly face of Rabin will be revealed to the world,' " Abdelaziz Rantisi told journalists at the scene.
Suspected of belonging to the fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, the men were expelled in retaliation for the killing of six Israeli soldiers and police this month. Israeli officials said 183 are from the Gaza Strip and 232 from the West Bank.
The deportees have now spent four nights stranded in south Lebanon. The U.N. Security Council has condemned the expulsion and demanded that Israel let the deportees go home.
In an effort to heighten the international drama around the deportation, Lebanon on Monday ordered international relief agencies, including the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, to halt assistance through Lebanese lines to the deportees' camp, despite the growing illnesses of those there. Only the pro-Iranian Hezbollah managed to get through.
Palestinians on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip continued their protests over the expulsions. Israeli troops shot dead an 11-year-old boy--the nephew of one of the deportees--in Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip as youths violated an army curfew and took to the streets to stone Israeli patrols. Another youth died of injuries suffered in clashes on Saturday. This brought to nine the number of Gazans to die in the last three days.
In an unusual move, Israeli Arab leaders announced that they, too, will go on strike today to protest the expulsions; about 800,000 Arabs live in the state of Israel and have Israeli citizenship.
Times special correspondent Marilyn Raschka contributed to this report from Beirut.