Palestinians sing, weep, celebrate

May 12, 1994|By Newsday

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Weeping mothers found their long-exiled sons, and others discovered relatives they had never seen among the newly deployed Palestinian police, as Gaza celebrated the beginning of the end of Israeli occupation.

Crowds of singing Palestinians swarmed around a former Israeli army base in the small central Gaza town of Deir Balah, where the first contingent of 157 policemen had been settled after yesterday's boisterous pre-dawn homecoming.

Many said they had not believed until then that the long-negotiated autonomy plan would ever become a reality.

In Jerusalem, Israel's Cabinet approved the agreement signed last week with the Palestine Liberation Organization that provides for autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho. It later passed the Knesset, after a walkout by opposition lawmakers who said the issue should be put to a referendum.

Israel and PLO officials said they hoped Israel's military pullout from Palestinian areas in Gaza and Jericho would be completed by May 18, six days ahead of schedule. Negotiations are expected to start soon on extending Palestinian self-rule in the rest of the West Bank.

In Deir Balah, a town of about 20,000, the bleary-eyed policemen waved at the crowds that milled about in happy chaos and scrambled onto the roof and watchtowers of the old Israeli base. Most of the new arrivals had not had a good night's sleep in three days because of the excitement and processing delays that kept them camped out at the Egypt-Israel border.

Faez Hamiz, at 18 one of the youngest of the new troops, had traveled by bus from a PLO base in Sudan for 24 hours straight to arrive in Egypt. Red-eyed from lack of rest, he wandered into the yard of the base and was grabbed by a Gazan named Ahmed Abu Nasr.

To the surprise of both, Mr. Nasr recognized the young policeman as his nephew.

"I had only seen pictures of him as a little boy," said Mr. Nasr, as he clutched and caressed the still-stunned young officer, who grew up in Egypt and had never set foot in Gaza before. "But I was sure I would recognize him. I'm going to take him to my home and introduce him to all his relatives."

Ranging in age from 17 to 62, the policemen come from the ranks of the scattered Palestine Liberation Army. The older soldiers had fled Gaza in humiliation in the 1967 Six-Day War to Lebanon and fled again in 1982 when Israel besieged Beirut. Others, like young Mr. Hamiz, joined up over the past few years to train at the scattered PLO bases in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Sudan, Jordan and Egypt.

Those veterans are now making their way across desert and borders to self-rule staging grounds in Jordan and Egypt.

The police, eventually to number 9,000 in Gaza and Jericho, will be the first force ever commanded by Palestinians and answering only to a Palestinian governmental authority.

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