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>Israel Faxx
>JN Jan. 16, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 10

President Clinton Praises Hebron Accord

But Clinton cautioned more work lies ahead. He said it is a time to reinforce the commitment to peace. He is expected to meet separately with Netanyahu and Arafat at the White House soon. Administration officials say the president will discuss the remaining issues in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

Hebron Accord is Initialed

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's Cabinet is debating the agreement initialed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators early Wednesday morning, providing for the long-delayed Israeli withdrawal from most of Hebron and some other West Bank areas.

The doors of the Cabinet room swung shut shortly after noon, on what emerging ministers report is a very stormy meeting of the seven-month-old Netanyahu administration. Seven of the 18 ministers have said they will vote against the agreement, and several others have said they might do the same.

Among those undecided is the Minister of Trade and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. He visited Hebron Wednesday morning and spoke to settlers in what he described as a final study before making a responsible decision.

Right wing and religious ministers oppose Netanyahu's decision to turn over most of Hebron to the Palestinians, calling the move a betrayal of Judaism and Zionism. But officials say Netanyahu has the votes to get the agreement approved. The full parliament is expected to debate and vote on the accord today.

In Hebron, celebrations by Palestinians were muted by rainy weather, but preparations were underway to enthusiastically mark the nearly year-late coming of autonomy, probably this weekend. The city's Palestinian mayor, Mustafa Natche, said after nearly 30 years of occupation, Hebron's people finally have a reason to celebrate.

"Of course this is a happy day that we see that there will be redeployment in Hebron in the coming few days so the situation will be improved in the city and the people will feel themselves after a few days that they are liberated like the other Palestinian cities."

The mayor says the people of Hebron now must work to rebuild their city. He says his biggest concern is that the 400 Israeli settlers who will continue to live in the Israeli-controlled part of the city will provoke trouble. Settler spokesman David Wilder says the settlers have no such plans, and are worried about attacks by militant Palestinians, who are particularly strong in Hebron.

"There isn't too much we can do about it. If the jeeps (of the Israeli army) don't want to patrol, we can't push them out into the streets. We have no private militias. We have no intention of going to war with Arafat's troops. We don't want to do that, and even if we wanted to do it, we couldn't. We hope that the Israeli army will be able to provide us with the security needs that we need to be able to live here safely."

But Wilder says he does not think the army will be able to do that, even with the security enhancements Netanyahu says are in the new agreement. He said Israeli right wingers are very disappointed in Netanyahu.

Another settler said that when the Palestinians and US mediators pushed Netanyahu, he fell over, and then he snuck off in the middle of the night to sign the agreement.

As expected, the radical Islamic group "Hamas" has denounced the agreement and rejected any peace dealings with Israel.

The US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, who helped mediate the accord, says he believes it will provide new momentum to the peace process.

"This is a very difficult negotiation which has produced an agreement which provides a foundation for both sides to work together and build a future of peaceful co-existence. I believe, and certainly if you had been in the room last night I think you would have believed, that Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu are very committed, personally committed to building that future of peaceful co-existence."

Indyk says the accord should be a "springboard" for improving Israel's relations with Arab countries and for resuming peace talks with Syria. "I think that the impact of that on Syria will also be positive in the sense that they will not want to miss a train that is beginning to move again."

The ambassador says the United States will work to get Syrian and Israeli negotiators together again.

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