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Israeli parliament debates Hebron deal

January 16, 1997
Web posted at: 9:45 a.m. EST (1445 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's parliament -- the Knesset -- began debate Thursday over whether to approve a landmark agreement for troop withdrawal from the volatile West Bank town of Hebron. Meanwhile, Israeli troops in Hebron lowered the Star of David flag and loaded dozens of trucks with boxes and equipment in anticipation of an end to their 30-year rule over the city.

The parliamentary debate started around 11 a.m. local time and was expected to last well into the night, with each of the 120 legislators being allowed to speak. The agreement was expected to pass easily with the support of leftist opposition parties.

Hebron: why it's important

The vote comes before parliament less than 24 hours after the Israeli and Palestinian Cabinets each approved the U.S.-brokered Hebron deal reached earlier in the week.

The Israeli Cabinet voted 11-7 in favor of the deal, after hard-line members spent the most of Wednesday denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for agreeing to it. They accused him of betraying the conservative cause by agreeing to troop withdrawals from much of Hebron and West Bank rural areas.

Minister Benny Begin, son of Israel's late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, resigned in protest after the vote.

"The prime minister committed himself to give away sections of the Jewish homeland. He gets zero from Arafat," Begin said.

The Palestinian Cabinet vote came earlier Wednesday evening. Members passed the historic accord by a large majority, said Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, but he declined to provide the vote count.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee also gave the deal its blessing.

Troops pack up


The peace agreement calls for the redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank in three phases, ending no later than late 1998. That includes Israeli troop withdrawals from 80 percent of Hebron, a move originally scheduled for last March. Hebron is the last West Bank city under Israeli occupation.

The troop withdrawal from Hebron was expected to start as soon as the Knesset gives its approval. Security sources said redeployment would take less than 48 hours.

By early Thursday, Israeli troops were already packing. Army bulldozers dismantled cement barriers at the gate of Israel's main military headquarters on a hill above the city.

Israeli security sources said police and soldiers had been deployed in Hebron to prevent unrest ahead of the pullback. Israeli troops set up new roadblocks around Hebron, checking motorists. Israelis were barred from entering the Arab neighborhoods of the overwhelmingly Palestinian city.


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