Palestinians take control of Jericho

JERICHO, MARCH 17. Even as a crane hoisted away the concrete slabs around the Israeli army's checkpoint into Jericho, soldiers were still waving down drivers for inspection.

By the end of the day, the paraphernalia of the roadblock was gone along with the Israeli flags. But the troops remained.

Israel transferred responsibility for security in Jericho to the Palestinians yesterday in a largely symbolic step toward reviving the peace process. The army has not been into the heart of the West Bank town in six months.

Further withdrawals will follow, beginning with Tulkarm, a more volatile city that was home to the man responsible for last month's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed five people.

Officials on both sides heralded the symbolism of yesterday's move as a turn away from the hopelessness created by the intifada. But some of Jericho's residents saw a less dramatic symbolism represented by removing the physical barriers at the checkpoint but leaving the soldiers in place.

``There are many deals made with Israel and they haven't fulfilled any of them,'' said Walid Baraba, a restaurant owner in Jericho's main square. ``You always have to look carefully to see if what they say is what you get.''

Embittered residents

At last month's summit in Egypt, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, promised the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, that Israel would pull out of five West Bank cities within days and lift many of the burdensome checkpoints in the occupied territories that often make it almost impossible for Palestinians to move around. But nothing happened as Israel stalled and the Palestinian leadership warned that without some relief from the most trying aspects of the occupation, Mr. Abbas's attempts to secure an end to violence would founder.

The checkpoints, and a trench the Israelis dug around Jericho to seal it off, has embittered residents of the Biblical town much more than periodic military raids. —

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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