Israel transfers 88 Fatah men who fled Gaza into West Bank
Members of the Hilles clan, who fled Gaza after clashes and were stranded in Israel, arrive in Jericho.
Israel drove 88 Palestinians allied to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement into the West Bank on Monday, two days after they fled clashes with Hamas in Gaza that cemented the Islamist group's hold on the coastal enclave.
Their two-bus convoy was escorted by Israeli police and army vehicles across Israel to the Palestinian-run town of Jericho and the men were taken to a security compound controlled by Abbas' Fatah-dominated force.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided late Sunday to allow a group of Fatah activists who fled the Gaza Strip over the weekend to be transferred to Palestinian Authority control in the West Bank.
The activists include members of the Hilles clan, some of the 188 Palestinian who escaped into Israel following a series of clashes with Hamas which left 11 people dead. It was decided that the refugees would be granted temporary asylum in the West Bank city of Jericho, despite initial plans to transfer them to Ramallah.
Israel originally admitted the men following a request from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the understanding that they would be sent on to the West Bank.
Israel sent about 30 members of the Helles clan back to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, citing an updated request from Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
"Israeli authorities halted the process, however, as they received information that they were being arrested by Hamas," the Israeli army said in a statement.
Israeli defense sources speculated that Abbas repented his initial decision for fear that it would be perceived as his Fatah movement abandoning its last foothold in Gaza and ceding the Strip to Hamas.
Aides to Abbas confirmed this view. "Fatah officials in Gaza should stay in their posts and should not leave Gaza to Hamas," Fahmi Zaghrir, a West Bank spokesman for Fatah, said on Sunday.
However, exceptions would be made for those wanted by Hamas, said Nimr Hamad, an Abbas adviser.
It was not immediately clear how many Gazans would be transported to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Abbas's Western-backed government is based.
The army said several of the men would remain at least temporarily at Israel's Barzilai hospital near the Gaza Strip, where they have been undergoing treatment for wounds sustained during fighting with Hamas.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Sunday that the Helles family was welcome to return to the Gaza Strip. "We assured them of their safety," he said.
But Abu Zuhri said the fact that family members fled to Israel "proved they had been involved in breaking the law."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel on Sunday petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the defense ministry to halt the deportation of Fatah members who fled the Gaza Strip over the weekend.
Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin has ordered Defense Minister Ehud Barak to respond to the petition by Monday afternoon.
"The matter of the petition, by its nature, cannot be deferred," wrote ACRI attorney Oded Feller in the petition. "Continuing [the process of] returning the asylum-seekers to Gaza is liable to endanger their lives, well-being and freedom."
Feller said putting the asylum-seekers at such risk constitutes a serious violation of human rights, and added that Israel should take other steps that don't endanger their lives if they pose a security risk to the state.