Gazans Hail PLO Officers at Birthplace of Intifada
Crowds of jubilant Palestinians streamed into Jabaliya’s police station Saturday after Israeli soldiers left in darkness from the teeming refugee camp where the intifada began.
But to some, limited self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank’s Jericho area was insufficient reward for more than six years of sacrifice during the Palestinian uprising.
Israeli troops turned over three installations in Jabaliya to about 100 Palestinian officers just before dawn Saturday. Another 220 Palestinian officers took up positions in Gaza City, where Israeli soldiers remain.
The Jabaliya withdrawal appeared to be several days ahead of schedule. Israel finished pulling out of the southern Gaza Strip on Friday and was to hand over the rest by Wednesday. About 1,800 Palestinian officers are in the strip, Israeli Army Radio said.
In Jericho, which Palestinians took over Friday, the first full day of self-rule exposed the daunting tasks facing Palestinian authorities--from ill-equipped post offices to border patrols.
Palestinian police detained an officer who gave his loaded Kalashnikov assault rifle to a 6-year-old boy, who then accidentally shot and killed his 12-year-old brother and wounded two others Friday. Police commanders had ordered officers showing their weapons to civilians to first unload them.
The officer, whose name was not released, is being investigated. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has demanded his court-martial, local officials said.
Israel Radio said a joint Palestinian-Israel patrol apprehended 10 Israelis from the banned extremist movement Kach who entered Jericho against Israeli army orders. The group left without violence, it said.
The Gaza and Jericho withdrawals were arranged under an accord signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization 11 days ago in Cairo. Israeli soldiers left Jabaliya as they did the rest of the strip: while most residents slept.
“It was very low key, no ceremonies, nothing,” Palestinian police officer Shafiq Khalil said.
Israel’s last commander in Jabaliya, whose name was given only as Lt. Tomer, told Israel Radio that the withdrawal from the town was an important symbol. “The intifada started in Jabaliya, and it will end here,” he said.
As word spread that the Israelis had left, hundreds of Palestinians streamed to the new police station in Jabaliya’s central square, hugging officers and chanting slogans of welcome.
“I’m very happy because there’s peace, and because the Jews have finally left,” Amina abu Nader said.
The square was filled with joyous graffiti and makeshift signs put up by the police. “We beg you not to destroy police property,” one officer said.
The carnival atmosphere was a far cry from the street battles that have characterized Jabaliya since riots broke out there in December, 1987, and escalated into the Palestinian uprising.
The town of 100,000, which includes a refugee camp that is among the poorest in the squalid strip, became a symbol of resistance to Israel’s occupation. Some residents are still bitter over the years of violence.
“This is not worth the risks we took,” said Ismail Salama, 40, an unemployed construction worker.
For now, Israeli soldiers will still guard settlers in a 10-mile bloc of Gaza along the Mediterranean.
The continued presence of about 5,000 Jewish settlers among Gaza’s 750,000 Palestinians has been criticized as a dangerous error in the peace agreement that turns over most of the strip and Jericho to Palestinian self-rule.