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Hebron Thoroughfare Reopened

August 19, 1999

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ The Israeli army today opened part of a major thoroughfare in the divided West Bank town of Hebron to Palestinian traffic for the first time since it was closed off more than five years ago after a Jewish settler massacred Muslim worshippers.

Settlers angrily protested the move, saying it endangered them.

The segment of Shuhada Street _ Martyrs’ Street _ opened today had been closed to Palestinian traffic except ambulances and municipal vehicles since February 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler and immigrant physician from New York City, gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers in a Hebron mosque.

Israel feared that the street, which passes by heavily guarded compounds where 500 Jewish settlers live, would be the scene of Palestinian retribution. Palestinian traffic is still prohibited from the part of Shuhada Street directly in front of the settler enclaves.

Hawkish former Gen. Ariel Sharon, who served as foreign minister under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, blasted the decision. ``I call this the most irresponsible step taken by the government,″ Sharon said while touring the street and speaking to settlers.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office issued a statement reminding Sharon that Netanyahu’s government had signed an agreement under which it was promised that the street would be open.

The street is a main artery bisecting the city of 130,000 people, and Palestinians have long demanded its reopening. Today’s action appeared to catch Palestinian motorists by surprise. The army issued a brief statement announcing the reopening of the half-mile strip of the street.

Samir Tamimi, who owns a shoe store on Shuhada Street, said while he welcomed the move and hoped it would improve business, he still wanted to see the entire area opened to Palestinian traffic.

``It’s not enough because we must have the entire street opened and have no checkpoints on the street. We need to have our lives back again,″ Tamimi said.

Jewish settlers complained that the partial reopening of the street would make it easier for Palestinian militants to carry out attacks against them. About 20 settlers tried to block Palestinian cars from passing close to one of the Jewish enclaves, but Israeli soldiers lined the road making sure the vehicles could pass.

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