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Palestinians Find Haven In Syria Ordeal Began 11 Days Ago With Their Expulsion By Libyan Leader

Some 600 Palestinians expelled by Libya reached this Syrian port Monday after an 11-day ferry ordeal across the Mediterranean Sea.

The Palestinians arrived in two groups. More than 250 were aboard the Syrian passenger ship Fayza Express, which docked at Latakia on Monday morning after a 16-hour voyage from Cyprus.

Jubilant Palestinian men, women and children lined the decks of the ship. Many waved portraits of Syrian President Hafez Assad, whose government agreed to give them sanctuary after refusing them entry last week.

A second group of 340 Palestinians arrived in the evening aboard the Syrian navy training ship Al-Assad. They sang as they left the harbor in Larnaca, Cyprus.

The deportees were among more than 650 Palestinians - 332 of them children under age 10 - who were expelled from Libya on Oct. 13 aboard a Cypriot-flagged ferry, the Countess M.

In August, Moammar Gadhafi ordered out some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya to demonstrate his opposition to peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Around 1,600 have been expelled since then.

On Monday, a PLO envoy urged the Arab League to try to stop Libya from expelling Palestinians. Envoy Mohamed Sobeih met the league’s secretary-general, Esmat Abdel-Meguid, and asked him to intervene to end the deportations. Past Arab League attempts to end the expulsions have failed.

The Countess M first went to Latakia on Oct. 17, but the Syrians refused to let the Palestinians land. The ferry sailed to Larnaca, but were also refused entry. Damascus finally relented under diplomatic pressure to take in those carrying Syrian passports or travel documents.

The Palestinians were not allowed to disembark Monday, but were ordered to hand over their papers for scrutiny, a process port officials said could take hours.

In Larnaca, officials said 43 Palestinians remained aboard the Countess M on Monday. Thirteen have Jordanian papers and will be flown to Amman, the Jordanian capital, in the next day or two.


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