Hopes rose briefly that the first batch of Palestinian policemen would cross the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River to take charge of public order. However, although some of the new force's weapons were able to pass through Israeli security into the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the police were barred, apparently because of 'technical disagreements' with the Israelis.
In Hebron, 117 Temporary International Presence Hebron (TIPH) observers from Norway, Denmark and Italy were brought face to face with the tensions in the town, when they were greeted with protests and tear-gas on their first day of deployment, as clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli troops outside the office of Mustapha Natche, the town's mayor.
The failure of the police to arrive on schedule yesterday spread further cynicism. Even the minority among local Palestinians, who support the agreement, are no longer under any illusion about the painful and chaotic manner in which the changes will be put into effect. 'We don't know what will happen. And we don't know when it will happen,' said Dr Ali Shaheen yesterday at the Jericho hospital.
Palestinian bickering was exacerbated by the length of time it has taken Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to publish a final list of appointees to the 24 member Palestinian National Authority which will run the autonomous areas before elections.
Real evidence of change seemed tantalisingly close yesterday: just over the Allenby Bridge, 300 armed Palestinian police waited all day to cross. Reports reached Jericho that they were from the Jordan-based Badr brigades of the Palestine Liberation Army, the military wing of the PLO. These brigades were, PLO sources reported, to be followed shortly by a further 500 police from the Iraqi-trained al-Aqsa brigades.
There was little cause for celebration. The Israelis made it clear that lack of 'co-ordination' had prevented the crossing and each side blamed the other.
The Israelis are keen to undermine any chance that the police's arrival would become a media extravaganza. Television pictures of Iraqi-trained Palestinian policemen, marching over the Allenby Bridge, would provide fuel for the Israeli right-wing opposition.
The policemen at the bridge were planning to spend last night at a pilgrims' rest on the Jordanian side, before making another bid to enter today.
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