Peace Optimism Breaks Out in Gaza Camp (AP) By LARA SUKHTIAN RAFAH REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip 01/29/05 4:06 PM)
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RAFAH REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip - Palestinian residents returned
Saturday to a devastated section of this refugee camp in southern
Gaza, and young boys played an impromptu game of volleyball in the
shadow of Israeli watchtowers, hopeful that four years of Israeli-
Palestinian violence might finally end.
For the first time since September 2000, camp residents have reason
for optimism. The deployment of hundreds of Palestinian police to
stop attacks against Israeli troops has raised prospects of an end to
military reprisals and the onset of peace and calm.
On Saturday, Israeli and Palestinian officials discussed security
issues before an upcoming summit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Also, the Palestinians
said they were close to getting militant factions to agree to a truce
In the crowded Brazil neighborhood, close to a massive Israeli
barrier along the Egyptian border, Palestinian soldier Misbah Abu
Taha, 29, surveyed the rubble of an area hit hard by the fighting and
sounded an upbeat note.
"I´m standing 200 meters (yards) from an Israeli tank, armed and in
full uniform," he said. "I would say there´s good reason for me to be
But with Israeli tanks still overlooking the camp and occasional
bursts of machine-gun fire riddling abandoned buildings, that hope
was tempered by a wariness that even a minor miscalculation can re-
ignite the violence.
Rafah camp has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the four-year
Palestinian uprising. As a stronghold of Palestinian militants and a
main transit point for weapons smugglers, it has been subject to a
series of harsh Israeli military operations.
More than 13,000 of its 90,000 residents have been made homeless by
demolitions since 2000, and more than 365 have been killed in
Abu Taha spoke from the shell of what used to be his family´s home,
destroyed when Israeli forces entered the area in May 2004 after
Palestinian attacks killed 11 Israeli soldiers over two days.
The Israeli operation left a swath of destruction extending 300 yards
eastward from the barrier. Homes and buildings were demolished or
gutted, streets were bulldozed and infrastructure was uprooted.
Surveying the damage to his family´s home, Abu Taha said he believed
that both Israelis and Palestinians had finally tired of violence.
"I feel there is a chance for change, for a new beginning," he
said. "If you had asked me 10 days ago if I would be back in uniform
standing in my house I would have said no way."
Abu Taha and dozens of other officers took up their positions Friday,
completing a Palestinian police deployment throughout the Gaza Strip.
The first phase, in northern Gaza, took place a week earlier.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered the deployment to stop
Palestinian rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli targets, part
of an effort to restart peace negotiations. Israel has welcomed the
deployment, which has been accompanied by a sharp drop in violence.
Abu Taha´s position, located in his partially demolished home, was
one of two Palestinian police posts established in abandoned homes
along a mile stretch of territory close to the Israeli barrier.
Marked by Palestinian flags, the posts serve as bases for Palestinian
patrols monitoring a sandy no-go area bordering the Israeli barrier.
Fearful that children foraging for bits of wood or pieces of metal
might prompt Israeli gunfire, they chased them away.
Although the homes are uninhabitable, residents began returning to
the area Saturday to inspect their property.
Just down the road from one police post, Hassan Abu Taha, a distant
relative of Misbah Abu Taha, sat on a torn-up couch he placed on the
dirt road in front of his partially demolished home. Hassan Abu Taha,
his two wives and 18 children abandoned the three-story building in
Three of his daughters were left homeless after bulldozers flattened
their dwellings in May. Two of them want to return to Rafah, while a
third, Samiya, 34, said she would never live there again.
"No one saw the horror that I saw," said Samiya, a mother of nine.
Not far from one of the police positions, several children dug two
poles in the ground and connected them with string for an impromptu
volleyball game. A sudden burst of gunfire from a nearby Israeli army
position left them unfazed, and they returned to the game.
Several hundred yards away, Suleiman Abu Jazar, 65, and a relative,
Musa Abu Jazar, 60, were enjoying a board game in the sand, using
finely cut thin rubber tubing as a substitute for pieces.
His albino skin protected from the winter sun by layers of garments,
Suleiman said he was happy about the Palestinian police deployment
but was reserving judgment about whether it would finally end the
"It gives me joy to see the Palestinian security forces guarding our
border," he said. "Let´s just hope Israel responds in kind."
(Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/29/05)
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