JERUSALEM – A military court on Monday approved the expulsion of three Palestinian relatives of suspected terrorists from the West Bank to Gaza, the Israeli military said.
The expulsions would be the first of their kind, a new Israeli tactic aimed at discouraging Palestinians from carrying out attacks. Human rights activists said the decision would be appealed to Israeli civilian courts.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it would carry out the expulsions "in the framework of the struggle against suicide terrorism and its supporting environment."
Palestinian political factions, meanwhile, gave in to militant groups and scrapped a call for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians. Instead, the groups, meeting in Gaza City to try to create a "national unity leadership," endorsed the Palestinians' 2-year-old uprising against Israel.
"We stress the legitimacy of our resistance against the (Israeli) aggression and the occupation, and the Israeli settlements," said the latest draft from the meeting, obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The three Palestinians facing expulsion are Intisar and Kifah Ajouri, the sister and brother of Ali Ajouri, who is accused of giving belts with explosives to suicide bombers, and Abdel Nasser Asidi, brother of a Hamas activist who is suspected of killing several Israelis.
Israel decided on expulsion of relatives of suspected attackers, including suicide bombers, as a deterrent measure last month, at one point arresting 19 relatives, apparently intending to send them all to Gaza.
However, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein ruled that only relatives who were directly connected to the attacks could be punished.
In another measure aimed at deterrence, Israel has started destroying the family homes of attackers. Palestinians and human rights groups have denounced both policies as collective punishment.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, called for international intervention to stop the expulsions. "This will not help calm the situation," Abu Rdeneh said. "The results of such a step will be the destruction of international and Arab efforts to help (bring) peace in the region."
The unity meeting followed pressure on the Palestinian leadership, headed by Arafat, to make sweeping reforms. The political factions met in Gaza City to establish unified positions in preparation for elections in January and other planned changes.
The factions say they want to create a "national unity leadership" involving all major groups -- including the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have carried out many of the suicide bombings against Israel.
The Palestinian leadership has said it believes it can exert more influence over Hamas and other militant groups by bringing them into the fold.
Arafat's Fatah movement was the driving force behind the current meetings, and it offered a draft proposal that called for an end to attacks against civilians inside Israel.
"The idea in this initiative is to stop attacking civilians and limit the resistance" to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said Kadoura Fares, a member of parliament from Fatah.
The Palestinian leadership has called for a halt to attacks against civilians, but the militant groups have persisted with daily shootings and frequent bombings. Even the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group linked to the Fatah movement, has kept up its campaign.
The proposed call for ending attacks on civilians was dropped because the more militant groups opposed it. The draft now under consideration says, "the uprising and resistance and political work are all means practiced by our people to achieve our national goals."
The factions have agreed to the draft in principle, though Hamas was still consulting its leadership before formalizing its acceptance. Hamas also said it had doubts about whether Arafat would follow through with planned elections.
"We do not know if Arafat is serious about elections," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a leading Hamas official. "He speaks about elections, but when you talk about a serious process, he postpones elections."
If all factions agree to the proposal, the Palestinians would establish a national unity leadership, with members from all parties. The body would consult with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in the run-up to Palestinian elections, tentatively set for January.
However, the current Palestinian leadership would remain in place, and the powers of the proposed new body would appear to be extremely limited.
Hamas' inclusion in a Palestinian leadership is vigorously opposed by Israel.
"Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and all talks between them and the Palestinian Authority until now have come to nothing," said Mark Sofer, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "As long as terror exists, you cannot move forward meaningfully with the Palestinians on any major issue."
In violence Monday, a Palestinian militiaman was killed by Israel troops in disputed circumstances in the northern West Bank, with the military saying he was shot while trying to escape arrest and his family alleging he was killed in custody. The slain man was identified as Ghazar Freihat, 21, a member of the Al Aqsa militia.