Arabs rejoice as Israelis pull out

West Bank withdrawal: Palestinians wary but triumphant as Nablus handed over

"Everybody was caught by surprise," says Husam Khader, one of Palestinian leaders in Nablus, as he describes the final moments of the Israeli withdrawal from his city. The Israeli forces pulled out 24 hours early, apparently in the hope of preventing last-minute clashes with local Palestinian stone throwers.

It was a plan which almost came disastrously unstuck. Israeli radio prematurely announced late on Monday evening that its troops were pulling out that night. "Some of our boys went down to the military headquarters looking for a fight," said Mr Khader. "There were still about 50 Israeli border guards. I called all my friends to tell our people with guns to go there there and get them out. We escorted them to the nearest Israeli checkpoint."

By yesterday morning the 1,200 police of the Palestinian Authority were fully in control. They are, in fact, not police, but combat soldiers armed with assault rifles and in full military uniform. Units in green berets were carrying mattresses into the old Israeli headquarters, housed in a large dirty cream building. Apart from an old wooden chair on which a bored soldier had carved his name in Hebrew, the building was scraped clean. Even the washing bowls in the lavatory were smashed and somebody had defecated on the floor.

The Israeli withdrawal from Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank with a population of 130,000, is the critical moment in implementation of the Oslo accords. In Jerusalem a senior Israeli official said: "We can never go back in." The escalation of violence by the Israeli extreme right, which culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, on 4 November, came because they believed the pullout from cities like Nablus made a Palestinian state inevitable.

In a villa built into the side of the mountain overlooking Nablus, Mahmoud Aloul, the new Palestinian governor, complains that the departing Israelis "destroyed the telephone lines and electricity supply in their headquarters". He cannot move in until they are repaired. Born in Nablus, he was jailed for four years in 1967, a few months after Israel captured the city in the Six Day War. He was then deported for 24 years, but helped organise the intifada in the city from abroad. Two months ago he came back.

The mood of Palestinian leaders in the city swings between exhilaration at being in control and wariness about the extent of their gains, since Israeli forces still surround Nablus. Nevertheless, Sami Musallum, head of the office in Jericho of Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, looked quietly triumphant as Palestinian troops escorted him through the gates of Jneid prison, which used to hold between 850 and 1,000 prisoners. He said: "Some people want to use it once again as a hospital, but I think it should turn it into a museum. This is where our freedom fighters were held and tortured."

Mr Khader, 34, is the leader of Fatah, the main Palestinian political organisation, among the 16,000 people in Balata refugee camp, just south of Nablus. "People believe in the Oslo agreement because they are seeing some results on the ground," he said. "But this is not enough, because we have only a little bit of our lands." The refugees in Balata, who fled from Jaffa and Lod in Israel in 1948, are disappointed that Oslo does not do anything to win them back their homes. Fatah activists like Mr Khader are also angry that Mr Arafat is preferring notable families and PLO politicians from abroad in the election to the 82-member Palestinian Council, which is to be held on 20 January.

There were few signs of these doubts on the streets of Nablus yesterday. Despite drenching rain and the crash of Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier overhead, most of the population was celebrating. People brought their children to look at the deserted rooms of the military headquarters and central police stations, both now decorated with Palestinian flags. After expressing his reservations about the partial nature of the Israeli withdrawal and the lack of democracy in Fatah, Mr Khader, a hardened intifada leader, said: "I cried when I saw the Israelis leave, because freedom is freedom."

n Washington - Israel's Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, addressing a joint meeting of Congress, issued an emotional appeal to President Hafez al- Assad of Syria to join him in building a new peaceful Middle East, Reuter reports. But in his two-day visit to Washington, a wary electorate at home has prevented Mr Peres from saying the words Damascus wants to hear: full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights.

Damascus gave a cautious welcome to Mr Peres' vow to proceed "full speed ahead" to break the deadlock.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn