Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Israelis Approve Hebron Pact; Troops Pull out of W. Bank City

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Israelis Approve Hebron Pact; Troops Pull out of W. Bank City

Article excerpt

A Palestinian waved his national flag from the roof of Israel's military headquarters in Hebron today, signaling the start of Palestinian control over the city after 30 years of Israeli rule.

The handover before dawn was brief. A long convoy of jeeps pulled out of the headquarters and the Israeli and Palestinian commanders briefly shook hands at the gate.

Palestinian police rushed into the fortress-like building and flashed V-signs from the windows. "This is the happiest day of my life," one office r shouted. Within an hour, 400 Palestinian police had taken control of 80 percent of Hebron. The Israeli army said its withdrawal was complete. Cheering Hebron residents set off fireworks. A young Palestinian waved the flag from the roof of the building. He then climbed up a tall antenna - the flag on a stick tucked into the back of his pants - to raise the banner at the highest point. The accord to withdraw from Hebron - worked out in months of tortuous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and signed early Wednesday - is the first tangible act by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government toward making peace with the Palestinians. Accord Approved In Jerusalem, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, approved the withdrawal by an 87-17 vote late Thursday, after an all-day debate in which Netanyahu faced attacks from members of his own Likud bloc. They said they felt betrayed by his acquiescence to a peace process he long opposed. Besides the Hebron withdrawal, the agreement calls for Israel to hand over a large part of the West Bank countryside to the Palestinians by mid-1998. The three-stage withdrawal from the rural areas is scheduled to begin the first week of March. Israeli troops will patrol the downtown area of Hebron, where 500 Jewish settlers live in five heavily fortified enclaves. The settlers live among about 30,000 Palestinians near the biblical Tomb of the Patriarchs, holy to both Muslims and Jews. In all, about 130,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, the last of seven cities in the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip to be transferred to Palestinian control under peace agreements signed in 1993 and 1995. In presenting his case to parliament, Netanyahu emphasized Thursday that Israeli troops would remain in the parts of Hebron where 500 Jewish settlers live. "We are not leaving Hebron. We are redeploying in part of it," he said. "We are remaining in all the parts of the city where the Jewish community existed and exists and will continue to exist. . . . There will not be Palestinian police with guns near the Jewish areas." At the Israeli military headquarters, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, met with Israeli commanders before daybreak to prepare for the handover. "I was detained here five times," said Rajoub, who spent 17 years in Israeli jails, including the one at the Hebron military headquarters. …

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