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Day One: Joy and anger mix in the streets of Hebron

January 17, 1997

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinians celebrated the start of Yasser Arafat’s control over Hebron with the bang and sparkle of fireworks Friday. But the city also crackled with anger between Palestinians and Jewish settlers still guarded by Israel.

Arafat promised to come soon to the city, turned over by Israeli forces with remarkable swiftness and calm in the early morning. Palestinian police quickly took over the military headquarters and had their officers out on patrol and directing traffic within hours.

Unlike previous withdrawals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1994 and 1995, no Israeli flags were burned and departing soldiers were not attacked with stones.

But within hours tensions flared, with Palestinian youths hurling rocks, bottles and potatoes at Israeli troops patrolling a downtown square adjacent to Jewish settler enclaves.

``Is this a secure peace?″ an angry Jewish settler woman yelled at an Israeli policeman after her car was hit by stones.

``You should be ashamed,″ a bearded settler shouted, waving his fist.

In the Gaza Strip, Arafat told reporters he would soon visit Hebron, where 400 Palestinian police now control 80 percent of the city. He predicted a Palestinian state within two years.

``This is what we promised our people, and we will continue,″ Arafat said. ``Why not have Jerusalem as the same capital for two states, the Israeli and Palestinian?″

In Hebron, a sign mounted on the new police headquarters stated the Palestinian dream: ``Hand in hand toward holy Jerusalem, the capital of an independent Palestinian state.″

How the two security forces cooperate in Hebron may determine the course of peace efforts. Netanyahu has said he reserves the right to revoke Israel’s pledge to withdraw from much of the West Bank countryside over the next 18 months in the event of violence.

In an early test of their cooperation, Israeli troops deferred Friday to plainclothes Palestinian police, who broke up a demonstration by about 100 teen-age supporters of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has vowed to continue ``holy war″ against Israelis.

The protest was in an alley behind the Jewish Beit Hadassah settlement on the border between the Israeli and Palestinian zones.

On one side of the street, Jewish settlers yelled, ``Massacre the Arabs!″ On the other side, Hamas activists threw stones and firecrackers at Israeli troops.

After conferring with the Palestinian police, the Israeli troops stood aside and the Palestinians detained several youths, said witnesses, including U.N. human rights observer Naomi Bar Yaacov.

Friday’s handover began at first light, 6:10 a.m., with a handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian commanders. Then, a long convoy of Israeli jeeps pulled out of the military headquarters, and Palestinian police pulled in.

In the city’s Israeli-controlled sector, marked off by stone blocks painted brown with yellow stripes, squads of Israeli soldiers and police streamed along major thoroughfares, far outnumbering the Jewish settlers.

In the Palestinian zone, Palestinian police in red berets and camouflage fatigues patrolled in jeeps.

Armed with automatic rifles, members of the elite Force 17 stood at the entrances to the former Israeli military headquarters on a hilltop overlooking the city of 130,000 Palestinians and 500 Jewish settlers.

Within hours of the Israeli troops’ departure, hundreds of Palestinians flocked to the stark compound for tours.

Ex-inmates strolled pensively through the holding cells at the entrance, where massive steel gates and barbed wire had been removed only hours earlier.

``Soldiers used to come in and beat us so we couldn’t sleep,″ recalled Wael Awawi, who was jailed for attacking an Israeli soldier.

Surveying the dark stone room, Awawi said 103 detainees were once jammed into a space that could comfortably hold about 25.

``We lost a lot, and we didn’t gain that much,″ Awawi said of the redeployment.

But for most Palestinians, the advent of autonomy ushered in a welcome new era in Hebron after 30 years of Israeli military rule.

In the downtown Bab Izawiya district, Palestinian policemen directed traffic, standing in the spot where only a day earlier Israeli troops had manned a roadside checkpoint.

Munther Shaheen, a washing-machine repairman who lives near one of the settler enclaves, said he was thrilled when he got a first glimpse of Palestinian police.

``But when I went back to my house, I saw the Israeli occupiers in the same position,″ said Shaheen, who is one of more than 15,000 Palestinians living in the Israeli-controlled zone. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police, more than at any time before, patrolled the downtown area Friday.

Twelve Jewish settlers ripped their clothing in a traditional Jewish expression of mourning. Dov Lior, a rabbi from the Kiryat Arba settlement next to Hebron, read psalms, then used a pocketknife to cut the shirt collar of each man.

``This is a sign of mourning over the destruction of the Land of Israel,″ Lior said.

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