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Gazan says he was deported under new Israeli rules

Ahmad Sabah at the Erez border crossing
Mr Sabah was deported to the Gaza Strip after he was released from jail

A Palestinian prisoner has blamed a controversial new Israeli military order on deportations for his release to Gaza, not the West Bank.

Ahmad Sabah, 40, freed on Wednesday, has a Gaza ID card, but lived in the West Bank when arrested in 2001.

The Israeli military said in a statement that his release to the Gaza Strip was standard procedure.

The order widens the definition under which Palestinians can be deported as suspected "infiltrators".

Palestinians fear a wave of expulsions, but Israel says the order allows better judicial review and affects few people.

When the order was brought in last week, Palestinians and human rights groups feared Israel was planning a new clampdown on Palestinians living in the West Bank but holding Gaza identity cards.

Family

Israel considers those with Gaza cards, who do not have a military permit to stay in the West Bank, to be illegally present and liable to deportation if they are discovered, although under the 1993 Oslo Accords the West Bank and Gaza are considered a single entity.

Infiltrator - a person who entered the area unlawfully following the effective date, or a person who is present in the area and does not lawfully hold a permit
New IDF orders

There is confusion over how many Palestinians with Gaza ID cards are living in the West Bank - Palestinian officials says it is tens of thousands, but Israeli authorities say the numbers are small.

Mr Sabah, who was freed after finishing his prison sentence, told BBC Arabic that he had been expecting be released to the West Bank, where family members were waiting, but was instead sent to Gaza.

When he questioned the decision, he said, he was told "this is because of the recent military order".

In a statement the Israeli military said that Mr Sabah's release to Gaza was entirely standard procedure because the strip was his registered place of residence.

The statement went on: "The destination of his release was brought to his attention and he expressed no objection to the decision, nor did he note that he has family in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] or express any desire to be released to Judea and Samaria."

Larger wave

The wording of the military order in question, known as the Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration, has been amended from when it was originally drawn up in 1969.

Women demonstrate against the arrest of their husbands in Gaza
There have been demonstrations against the new orders

The definition of "infiltrator" was then: "A person who entered the area knowingly and unlawfully after having been present in the east bank of the Jordan, Syria, Egypt or Lebanon following the effective date (of the order being given)."

Under the new order this is to be changed to: "Infiltrator - a person who entered the area unlawfully following the effective date, or a person who is present in the area and does not lawfully hold a permit."

It allows Israel to deport suspected "infiltrators" within 72 hours or imprison them for up to seven years, they can also be fined to pay the cost of their deportation.

Israel says the purpose of the change in rules was to update them to grant suspected infiltrators the right to a hearing before a military judicial panel within eight days of the issuing of the deportation order.

Israeli military sources said it only applied to people not registered with the Palestinian population registry - which is overseen by Israel - and those numbers were small.

But Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups fear it could pave the way for a much larger wave of expulsions in the future.

"The orders are worded so broadly such as theoretically allowing the military to empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants," a letter written by human rights organisation HaMoked and signed by 10 other groups to Defence Minister Ehud Barak said.



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