Settlers ready for Hebron struggle

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The Independent Online
In the Israeli military headquarters overlooking Hebron, a brown-coloured fortress built by the British half a century ago, a senior Israeli officer pointed to a thin dark line on the map which will mark the partition of the city between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"There is friction, daily friction, friction all the time," said the officer, appealing for his name and rank not to be used. Most Israelis had already left the building, due to be taken over by Palestinian police after a final agreement is signed on Israeli redeployment in Hebron.

It is a peculiar type of withdrawal. "In other cities we handed over authority and pulled out," the officer said. "Here we are just going to pull back a few blocks." Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, claimed in the election that there was a sell-out of the 400 Jewish settlers in Hebron, but it was Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who made most concessions.

In future, Hebron will be divided into two areas known as H1 and H2. In the former will live 100,000 Palestinians, protected by 400 Palestinian police. In the latter, protecting 48 settler families in the heart of the city, will be 1,000 Israeli soldiers and 20,000 Palestinians included in the settler enclave. Yesterday troops were strengthening their checkpoints and heaping up sandbags.

For Noam Arnon, settler leader and spokesman, this is disastrous. "We are very concerned and very frightened that the PLO police are going to take over Hebron," he said. Asked if it was not the Palestinians who had most to fear from the heavily armed settlers, Mr Arnon demanded to know "how a community of 50 men could endanger 150,000 Arabs?" A few hours earlier the settlers of Kiryat Arba, the 6,000-strong Jewish settlement overlooking Hebron, had been in a more aggressive mood. Hundreds had gathered to celebrate the bar mitzvah of Ya'akov, son of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 worshippers in a Hebron mosque two years ago. Dov Lior, rabbi of Kiryat Arba, told the young man: "Follow the path of your father, he was a righteous man and a great hero."

Israeli news photographers and cameramen were abused. A man attending the bar mitzvah shouted: "If there was an abominable murderer in this country it was [the late prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin. Baruch Goldstein saved Jews." Goldstein's father, Yisrael, added: "He was a hero. Everything he did, he did for the sake of Israel."

Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile was waiting to see last night if he could leave on a holiday to Colorado or would have to cancel because agreement had been reached on Hebron. Palestinian negotiators said they would not agree to the Israeli army entering their enclaves at will. Israel said it was a long way from agreeing a timetable for the next stage of withdrawal from the West Bank.