As Gaza town sleeps under Israeli curfew, both sides fear the coming days

January 02, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

GAZA, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip -- The eerie silence that cloaked this town -- shuttered and locked by Israeli order yesterday -- seemed only to whisper louder the threat Israel feels from the occupied lands.

One million Arabs were confined to their homes in Gaza and the West Bank yesterday in a general curfew called by Israel to prevent disturbances.

Despite the curfew, four Palestinians were killed in encounters with Israeli troops. Two were shot to death in the Gaza Strip near here, and two others were killed on the West Bank, according to officials.

The curfew was imposed to muzzle Palestinian activities on Fatah Day, the 26th anniversary of the first bomb planted by the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Such general curfews have become almost monthly events since violence escalated following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Iraq's President Saddam Hussein is a hero to many Palestinians, and Israel has placed masses of Palestinians under virtual house arrest.

Most obey. The streets of Soujeaeyah, a neighborhood of Gaza known for its pro-PLO sentiments, wore an unnatural calm yesterday during an unauthorized tour behind the army roadblocks.

"It's like the aftermath of a nuclear war," remarked Donald Gilchrist, a Scottish doctor working here, one of the few permitted on the streets. "There are no people, no barking dogs, no crying babies. Even the birds are quiet."

But if war breaks out in the Persian Gulf, the silence will end, some predict. Those on both sides of the shutters fear what will happen.

Palestinians fear that the Israelis will be unrestrained; the Israelis predict the Palestinians will escalate their three-year revolt.

Israeli Police Commissioner Roni Milo warned yesterday about a change in the "intifada" uprising from one waged by Palestinians with rocks to one waged with guns and bombs.

"Terrorists who come to harm our innocent citizens, to kill and murder us, must know that if they don't blow themselves up with the bomb, we will see to it that in any event, they won't come out alive," he told his officers in a speech, according to Reuters.

The Palestinians also are determined.

"The Israelis are my enemies," said Khalil, a 23-year-old jTC Palestinian shopkeeper from a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. "They have taken away our human rights. They have put us into a large prison."

Khalil, who would not give his last name, lay in a bed in the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza yesterday, a wound in his abdomen from an Israeli plastic bullet.

To his right, 16-year-old Hassan lay with a similar injury. To his left, Zuhir, 25, moved painfully in his bed, his ankle shattered by an exploding "dum-dum" bullet.

"If war starts, all of the Middle East will be in flames," said the hospital's chief, Dr. Zakaria Agha. "And the intifada will become more vigorous."

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