Middle East Accord: Jericho extends a wary welcome

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JERICHO - Palestinian schoolboys clashed with Israeli soldiers here yesterday as their leaders launched Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho.

A small crowd of youngsters chanted salutes to the PLO and Yasser Arafat, in central Jericho and hoisted Palestinian flags on the Israeli-run police station as the self-rule deal was signed. One youth climbed the fence and showered the small crowd with sweets.

But, in stark contrast to the jubilation that accompanied the signing of the broad agreement last September in Washington, there were few signs of celebration. The mood was one of doubt and scepticism.

'All our celebrations in the past have been for nothing. We have been through more difficulties during the past few months,' said Nazar Halteh at her shop in central Jericho. 'We have stopped expecting anything so that we will not be disappointed. But we still live on hope.'

The brief celebration turned violent when youngsters attacked the police station, ripping off a broken sign and replacing it with a picture of Mr Arafat and the late PLO military commander, Abu Jihad.

Israeli soldiers hurled tear- gas and percussion grenades at the demonstrators and chased them into the streets. There were no reports of injuries.

Palestinian sources in Jericho said 800 Palestine Liberation Army soldiers, retrained as policemen, were expected to cross from Jordan next week to take charge of security in the town. A team of 19 Palestinian members of the Liaison Committee of the Palestinian police have arrived in the Gaza Strip to prepare for the handover.

A group of 15 West Bank Palestinian deportees returned with their families from Jordan yesterday. Israel has allowed dozens of other deportees to return since the deal was first sealed in September.

Jericho Palestinians, still in the dark about the terms of the deal, were asking questions about how their lives would change under the accord but there was no one to answer. Even the senior PLO representative in Jericho, Abdel- Karim Sider, appeared bewildered. 'Nobody here knows what the leadership has signed today,' he said.

In Amman, Jordan's King Hussein said Jordan would not 'surrender' under pressure to sign a peace agreement with Israel quickly.

Syria described the peace deal as an obstacle to the peace process, and said it would never follow suit by signing separate or partial accords with Israel.