Palestinian police take over from Israel in Bethlehem

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The Independent Online

Sirens blaring, Palestinian police today moved into the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the second area turned over by Israel under the American–sponsored 'road map to peace'.

Sirens blaring, Palestinian police today moved into the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the second area turned over by Israel under the American–sponsored 'road map to peace'.

Clapping and cheering, residents leaned from their windows to watch about 60 police in dark blue uniforms march through town, followed by a single motorbike and two cars. Police said they were forced to walk because they did not have enough vehicles to transport all of them.

"Welcome, welcome," a grandmother, Hilal Murra told them. "It's better to see them in the streets than the Israelis."

Israeli troops withdrew to the outskirts of Bethlehem. They officially turned over security to Palestinians shortly after midday, but the town remains hedged in by Israeli checkpoints

"They are making fools out of us," said Jaudat Joude, who has been unable to reach his job at a Jerusalem welding factory since the uprising began almost three years ago. "If you want to make some serious changes, open the roads, remove the checkpoints and let people in to work. Then maybe we can believe that the Israelis have good intentions."

Israeli forces have occupied Bethlehem several times during the conflict, once holding the Church of the Nativity under siege for a month, demanding surrender of Palestinian gunmen who had fled inside the shrine marking the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

After a suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus last November, carried out by a Palestinian from Bethlehem, soldiers went back in and stayed.

In a statement, the military said Israel would be in charge of security of Israelis, including settlers in nearby villages. Palestinian security forces, meanwhile, "have committed to preventing and thwarting terrorist attacks in the areas under their responsibility."

A similar formula held in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli troops pulled out late Sunday.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Cabinet today that Israel wanted to see Palestinians start disarming militant groups in Gaza and Bethlehem before pulling out of additional areas – a process he thought could take several weeks, according to officials present at the meeting.







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