Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Delighted Palestinians Dance to Beat of Self-Rule

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Delighted Palestinians Dance to Beat of Self-Rule

Article excerpt

ISRAEL TURNED DOZENS of villages over to the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday in a smooth transfer of power.

By week's end, almost all Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza will be under Yasser Arafat's control, ahead of elections next month that will bring the Palestinians within reach of their decades-long quest for self-determination.

In Dahariya, south of Hebron, delighted residents served coffee to the departing Israeli troops and gave them olive branches, belying any bitterness that many feel after 28 years of Israeli occupation.

Palestinian police arrived later in buses, waving Kalashnikov rifles, Palestinian flags and pictures of Arafat. To the cheers of dancing villagers, they raised the once banned Palestinian flag at the former Israeli military headquarters in Dahariya.

Inside, Mohammed Hassan, 35, stood outside a small room where he was interrogated for 11 days in 1988.

"I never dreamed that one day Palestinians would be in control," said Hassan, who spent 18 months in Israeli jails from 1988 to 1990 for belonging to Arafat's then-outlawed Fatah movement. "Now we can feel safe and secure."

North of Hebron, in the village of Halhoul, two soldiers in a jeep gave white-and-red carnations to Palestinians waiting outside the base being evacuated. After the Israelis left, it was a free-for-all, with villagers grabbing everything from barbed wire to old lamps.

In all, Israel pulled out of 10 villages where it had troops and handed over 50 smaller villages near Hebron and Ramallah where the army had no permanent presence, said Shlomo Dror, spokesman of Israel's outgoing West Bank military government.

As part of the Israel-PLO autonomy accords, the PLO already controls six West Bank cities as well as most of the Gaza Strip, which it took over in May 1994.

On Tuesday, the Israeli army banned Israelis from the West Bank town of Ramallah, a step taken before previous withdrawals. …

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