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Politics Aside, Peace Patrols are Running Smoothly

July 15, 1996

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ The two officers, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, fought each other in the 1982 war in Lebanon. Now, they command joint security patrols to protect the shaky peace.

Despite the many upheavals of recent months _ suicide bombings by Islamic militants, a protracted Israeli blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a new Israeli government _ the two commanders and their men have become friends. They ride in convoys by day and drink coffee by night.

``This is a success,″ said the Israeli officer, Lt. Col. Moshe Yogev, 38. ``It might plant a seed of belief in those who doubt the process.″

The goodwill among the men in the field contrasts sharply with the growing tension between their political leaders, who have exchanged harsh accusations since Israel’s May elections.

Hard-line Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat repeatedly have accused each other of failing to meet peace accord obligations. Netanyahu has said he would only meet Arafat if it were vital for Israel’s security.

Undeterred by growing suspicions at the top, Yogev and his Palestinian counterpart, Col. Mohammed Diab, 43, are trying to show that peace works. Together, they watch over Nablus, once a hotbed of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

``The stage of weapons of war between the two sides is over. As you can see, we sit together at the same table,″ Diab, a man with graying hair and glasses, said in Arabic. Yogev, sitting next to him, translated.

``Now, one of our missions is to turn the people toward the direction of peace,″ Diab said in his office, sitting in front of draperies in the black, red, green and white of the Palestinian flag.

In Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city and the scene of anti-Israeli riots until the last days of occupation in November, the joint patrols have become routine.

No heads turned Monday as a Palestinian army truck, followed by an Israeli jeep, drove slowly up and down the main street of Nablus, crowded with street vendors and Palestinian shoppers.

During the years of the Palestinian uprising, Israeli vehicles routinely were pelted with stones; young Palestinians often would set up makeshift roadblocks of trash and burning tires.

Some of the stone-throwers have been drafted into the Palestinian police and serve in the joint patrols, along with Israeli soldiers who had chased and arrested them.

Israeli Lt. Benny Buganim, riding in the second vehicle Monday, said some of the long hours on the job are spent spinning new dreams.

``Now, some of the teams are really friends and talk about going into future businesses together,″ said Buganim, a 22-year-old from the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya.

The joint patrols operate in areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that were placed under full or partial Palestinian control under the 1994 peace agreements. Their task is to defuse possible friction between Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

When the joint convoys began patrolling _ in May 1994 in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho, and last fall elsewhere in the West Bank _ both sides had some adjusting to do.

Yogev recalled that when he approached the Palestinian office at the shared compound for the first time in an Israeli army uniform, a Palestinian officer held a cocked gun to Yogev’s head.

An Israeli army maintenance team that came to the compound was nervous about working around Palestinians, Yogev said. When he sent Diab to reassure them, the workers looked alarmed at being addressed by the Palestinian officer.

``But very quickly the ice melted,″ said Yogev, whose nickname is Moussa, the Arabic version of Moshe.

Both Diab and Yogev refused to discuss politics, including the recent Israeli elections. But the men under their command said they were confident about the future.

Palestinian officer Mohammed Attawi, who rode in the lead patrol car Monday, said the progress that has been made will not be reversed because peace serves the interest of both sides.

``Day by day, our respect grows,″ he said. ``They are like family now.″

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