Police entry an anticlimax for Palestinians

May 11, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- A company of 150 Palestinian police crossed into the Gaza Strip from Egypt yesterday, but the expected triumph of their arrival was soured by further delays at the Israeli border station.

Thousands of Palestinians who waited for two days along the hot and dusty route of their arrival were disappointed as the police remained at a border terminal late into the night.

Only a smattering of the crowd remained to greet the policemen, expected to came by bus from the terminal to set up camp in a base turned over by the Israeli military.

"Today we will start . . . to take charge," said Nasser Yousef, the Palestinian police commander.

Earlier in the West Bank, gunmen suspected of being Palestinians opened fire with automatic weapons on an Israeli bus near the Jewish settlement of Shilo. Three passengers were wounded, none critically, according to Israeli reports.

The entry of the Palestinian police into the Gaza Strip was supposed to have been the dramatic symbol of Palestinian gains from the peace process. The 9,000 police are supposed to take control of nearly 1 million Palestinians within the next two weeks.

Instead, it was a bittersweet event for Palestinians.

The very few who have arrived were disarmed by the Israelis, who checked and cataloged their guns, and brought them out in buses around 1 a.m. onto a road littered with rocks and glass from the clashes of the day.

Other policemen will follow in the next weeks as they arrive from Egypt. The first police contingent may enter Jericho from Jordan today.

The policemen are soldiers gathered from the far-flung army units of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It is unclear what caused the delay in their arrival. The policemen were kept largely apart from reporters at the terminal building and their officers said little.

According to one account, the final difficulty arose when Israel demanded that the Palestinian policemen sign statements renouncing violence against Israel.

The statements -- similar to ones being required by Israel of prisoners being released under the accord -- are resented by Palestinians, who see them as a last act of humiliation by the withdrawing occupiers.

Despite the generally celebratory mood of the waiting Palestinians, Arab youths and Israeli soldiers have carried on a running, low-key battle for two days. The soldiers, stiff and padded in their bulky bullet-proof vests, faced scores of Palestinians who gathered before them, chanting in celebration and taunting the soldiers.

The soldiers pushed and shoved to keep the crowd from advancing.

Periodically, the Palestinians launched volleys of rocks into the lines of the soldiers. The soldiers responded by charging with war whoops, throwing stun grenades toward the scattering Palestinians.

There were no reports of serious injuries.

"People cannot stop their instinct," acknowledged one soldier. "The soldiers have an instinct to push people back, and the Palestinians have an instinct to throw rocks."

For some, the wait had personal import.

Subha Aweider, 80, was hoping to see her son, Jabber, among the ranks of the Palestinian police. She had not seen him since the third day of the 1967 Six Day War, she said. He was coming from Algeria.

"He was very young when he left me," she said of Jabber, now 43. "This is a day for the biggest happiness, all over the world."

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