JERUSALEM — Israel, trying to defuse a crisis over 415 Palestinian deportees stranded in Lebanon, offered Dec. 29 to let human- itarian aid through if the Beirut government did the same.
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri swiftly rejected Israel's offer. He told reporters that UN special envoy James Jonah would be wasting his time raising it during a Lebanese visit Tuesday. Lebanon has refused to accept the Palestinians because it does not want to legitimize the Israeli expulsion.
Information Minister Michel Samaha said Lebanon would eventually ask the UN Security Council to vote on a detailed mechanism to make Israel take back the deportees.
But officials for Israel and the International Committee of the Red Cross said they were awaiting a formal response. Israel made the offer to the Red Cross, which had sought permission to deliver aid.
It was the first sign of Israeli flexibility in the crisis. The deportees, accused by Israel of having links to fundamentalist Muslim groups, have been stranded for 12 days in a no man's land between Israeli and Lebanese lines.
Both governments have refused to let aid through, saying the deportees are the problem of the other country.
Reto Meister, head of the Red Cross delegation in Israel and the occupied territories, had no response to Mr. Hariri's rejection.
Israeli officials said they distinguished between humanitarian and political problems of the deportees. They said they hoped Mr. Jonah, a UN under-secretary-general on mission to Israel and Lebanon, could find a way for Lebanon or another country to absorb the deportees.
Israeli Army radio said Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would meet Jonah when he returned from Lebanon late Dec. 29 or 30.
The Israeli Army said earlier Dec. 29 it had wrongly banished 10 of the Palestinians. They could return home but some would have to face trial.
"We are speaking of the war on terror, and sometimes in such situations there are also mistakes. This must be understood and accepted," Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Army radio when asked to explain the error.