PLO chief returns to a subdued welcome

A SUDDEN flash of black and white among the sea of berets at last proved to the Palestinians of Gaza yesterday that Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, had come home.

Nine months after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in Washington, Mr Arafat crossed on to Palestinian soil and then sped away in a cloud of dust across the Gaza Strip to greet the 'children of the stones, the heroes of the stones', amid scenes of mayhem in Gaza's central square.

'We are here in Gaza on our way to the Temple Mount,' he told the crowds, pledging to claim for them the ultimate prize - a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

This day, 1 July 1994, was one all Palestinians had been waiting for and they turned out in their tens of thousands, to see, to hear and to try to touch him. But the greatest homecoming in Palestinian history did not, in the end, move the people as profoundly as many had predicted. Palestinians are cautious about what Mr Arafat's peace might bring and Mr Arafat himself knew that his tour through Gaza could not be one of triumph.

Israel mounted a massive security operation in Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza after threats by Jewish settlers and Palestinian extremists to assassinate Mr Arafat. But despite protests in Jerusalem the homecoming was relatively calm.

It began in the searing heat on a desolate piece of Gaza sand. Waiting for the chairman a small number of selected dignatories and diplomats perspired under swiftly erected awnings as plastic Arafat posters curled in the sun. Some in the crowd knelt for morning prayer while others spoke of their hopes for Mr Arafat.

'It is a dream I have always had. But Mr Arafat must now talk to the people, reassure them and give them their rights,' said Sami abu Samhandani, who spent 11 years in an Israeli jail. 'We were not just fighting for this day, we were fighting for our freedom.' Refugees said they hoped Mr Arafat would now win the right for them to return to their homes in Israel.

At 3.15pm precisely a black Mercedes pulled across the border. Mr Arafat emerged, circled momentarily by a shield of gun barrels, and then, afraid perhaps of an executioner in the swirling crowds, he was gone. Without so much as a word of greeting to the crowd under the awning.

As the convoy sped north Mr Arafat saw for the first time the squalid refugee camps where the Palestinian intifada erupted in 1987, he saw the flocks of children, many of whom manned the intifada front line with stones in their hand. He saw his fighters who have laid down their weapons or joined the Palestinian police.

He also saw the Israeli army camps which are still on land he once had hoped would be his. The massive Jewish settlement blocks of Gush Katis were visible from the road where 5,000 Jewish settlers insist that Mr Arafat's Palestine is the Holy Land of Israel. 'Arafat the murderer' said a sign hung by settlers outside Kfar Dorom, where many settlers had declared themselves ready to kill the Palestinians' returning hero. Their threats forced a change of route and Mr Arafat found himself worming through the cornfields.

It was in Gaza City, stronghold of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, where Mr Arafat's support faced its strongest test. In a clear bid to win over Islamic opponents, Mr Arafat saluted Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas who sits today in an Israeli jail. 'In the name of Allah we are bringing victory to the believers,' said Mr Arafat. As a cacophony of hooters and cheers filled the street, the first stage of Mr Arafat's homecoming soon drew to a close. The people were quick to disperse. A schoolboy, Khaled Abu Eida, said as he headed for home: 'We just came to see. We just wanted to believe and see that he was real.'

Mr Arafat will visit the West Bank self-rule enclave of Jericho during his current visit but not Jerusalem, his adviser, Nabil Shaath, told reporters yesterday.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
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

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?