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Analysis: Palestinian Police Monitoring Bethlehem Under Watchful Eye of Israelis

Morning Edition: August 20, 2002

Bethlehem Pullout



RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Bob Edwards is away. I'm Renee Montagne.

Israeli tanks and helicopters today moved into Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank. The Israeli army says one armed Palestinian was killed in an exchange of fire there. In Gaza, an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian teen-ager were killed in a shooting between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops guarding Jewish settlements. The violence comes after Israeli forces pulled out of Bethlehem. Palestinian police are now patrolling the biblical city in a test that could lead to more withdrawals. NPR's Anne Garrels is in Bethlehem, and joins me.

What is the reaction there?

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Well, the curfew's been lifted, and people are out on the streets, but I'd say the reaction runs the spectrum from extremely cautious to absolutely pessimistic, which reflects the complete lack of trust on both sides at this point. People in Bethlehem are unsure of the benefits and (technical difficulties) aware of the risks of this deal were out of hiding. `That's it so far' is a common response from people. The Israeli troops are out of the city, but they still encircle it. The people here can't travel outside, and many aren't sure it's going to get much better. And as you say, the Israelis have made this a test. The Palestinians have to stop attacks from Bethlehem before the Israelis will withdraw from other places.

The governor, Mohammed al-Madani, says Israel actually has the power to make this deal work or not. He says incursions and assassinations, like the one that happened today in Tulkarem, are inevitably going to lead to revenge by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the militant groups, who've said that they will not cease their operations. He says Israel needs to stop assassinations for this to go forward.

MONTAGNE: Do the Palestinian police seem to be in control there?

GARRELS: Well, I wouldn't exactly say it's control, but they're out in the streets for the first time in 60 days. This is the first time they've actually been in uniform in two months. The only optimistic comment, in fact, came from one policeman I spoke to, who said his instructions are to stop attacks on Israelis by militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and he said he would do this. But he also admitted that the police are severely crippled in their ability to operate because Israel, in the course of its reoccupation over the last few months, has destroyed most of their equipment.

MONTAGNE: Anne, why, of all the West Bank cities, did they start with Bethlehem?

GARRELS: Well, Bethlehem's been among the quietest, and recognized as the birthplace of Christ, it's highly dependent on tourism and there are no tourists. With Christmas coming, they want pilgrims back here. The governor said that this is a chance for the city to organize itself and welcome people back.

MONTAGNE: And why did the Palestinian Authority agree to what essentially is a test?

GARRELS: You're right, it's because it's a beginning. It's a risky one because, after all, Israel, with all of its force, has been unable to stop violence. But it is a beginning. As one analyst put it, `By getting Israel out of Bethlehem, they're getting the Israelis to basically reinforce the basic Oslo accords,' which gave Palestinians control of the major towns in the West Bank and Gaza. And they hope this is a first step to moving forward.

MONTAGNE: Anne, thank you very much.

GARRELS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Anne Garrels in Bethlehem.

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