Fears of violence after peace deal delay: Hopes remain high for release of political prisoners but militants expected to use hold-up to undermine PLO credibility

THE FAILURE of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), to agree terms for withdrawal in time for today's deadline, will cause an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, Palestine activists in Gaza warned last night.

However, although confusion and anger is certain to spread on the streets, moderate leaders who support the peace deal were not despondent, saying they still expected withdrawal by Israeli forces to begin in the near future. Furthermore, they supported Mr Arafat for not giving in to Israeli demands on the central areas of dispute, including control at border crossing points, the size of Jericho, and Israeli military presence in and around Jewish settlements.

'Arafat has shown that the PLO are not going to give the Israelis everything they are asking. We all knew this process could take a long time, and the delay is no big surprise. Mr Arafat has shown to Palestinians opposed to the agreement that he is thinking seriously about the future of Palestine,' said Sami Abu Samhandani, a PLO leader in Gaza.

Among the Palestinian public, expectations had been high in Gaza, and in the West Bank town of Jericho, where Israeli withdrawal was due to start first, that today would bring the first substantial evidence that the peace agreement, signed in September, was for real.

In Gaza City and refugee camps nearby Palestinians waited anxiously last night for the outcome of the Cairo talks. Reports had circulated during the day that troops would start withdrawing from Jabaliya camp, one of the largest refugee camps in Gaza, overnight. Unusual troop movements fuelled such speculation. There were also reports that Israel was preparing to pull back from other Palestinian towns, and to evacuate a police station.

However, Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat announced they had failed to resolve their differences and the start of withdrawal was to be delayed for at least 10 days. Some symbolic gestures of withdrawal are still expected today to try to ease public anxiety. And hopes remained high last night that Israel would go ahead with the planned release of up to 1,000 political prisoners. But the message from Cairo swiftly dampened the earlier excitement in Gaza.

'The people here are very disappointed,' said Mr Abu Samhandani. 'That disappointment may lead to anger and to violence.'

While Mr Rabin had deliberately prepared Israeli public opinion for the possibility of a delay, saying today was only a 'target date', Mr Arafat had raised hopes, saying that 13 December was a 'sacred day'. The Rabin government has emphasised that it views the deadline for completion of withdrawal, 13 April, as more important than the date set for the start.

Mr Arafat's failure to lower expectations when the negotiations ran into difficulties brought him criticism yesterday.

'If the people here now see no changes on the streets they will become suspicious of Israeli intentions. This will not help the peace agreement,' said Marwana Kafarnah, an opposition Palestinian activist.

Militants opposed to the peace deal, in particular members of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, are expected to use the delay to fuel opposition, and to undermine the credibility of Mr Arafat and the PLO.

At the same time violent elements within Fatah, the mainstream moderate group within the PLO, are expected to break ranks and resort to arms as a show of strength. In recent weeks the Fatah Hawks, an armed group within Fatah, have made clear they are not bound by Mr Arafat's call to lay down arms, issued after the peace agreement was signed.

'During the next few days we may see more violence from Fatah elements. They will want to show the Israelis we are going to the talks not because we have no other choice about how to achieve our ends,' said one Fatah source.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test