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Arafat arrives in Hebron for 'victory' celebration

'A promise is a promise'

January 19, 1997
Web posted at: 8:20 a.m. EST (1320 GMT)

HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- Greeted by more than 60,000 jubilant Palestinians, Yasser Arafat arrived in Hebron Sunday to celebrate the Palestinian takeover of the city after three decades of Israeli occupation.

"Yes, it's true. It is a liberated city. It is a liberated city. ... This a victory," he said, waving a symbolic "V" for victory hand sign to the crowd.

A sea of Palestinians waved flags, whistled and cheered wildly. Young men climbed atop telephone poles to catch a better glimpse of their leader. Elderly women danced. One sign read: "We waited a long time for you."

For Arafat, it was his first visit in more than 30 years to Hebron, the last West Bank city to come under Palestinian rule.

Wearing his trademark black-and-white keffiyeh and green khaki uniform, Arafat delivered a vow: "A promise is a promise. We will accomplish the Palestinian state."

The Palestinian leader added that Hebron was a springboard for further Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and a march toward greater Middle East peace.

"We have a long and hard road to go," he told the crowd. "You are the heroes. It is the people of Hebron who are going to make the peace."

The crowd responded by chanting "Long live Palestine" and "Long live Arafat."

Nabil Amr, an adviser to Arafat, told the rally that Arafat was last in Hebron in 1965, when he organized guerrilla cells to fight Israel.

And though Arafat called for a creation of a Palestinian state, he also offered conciliatory words to the Jewish settlers who remain in the city. "I say to the settlers we don't want confrontation ... we want a just peace."

"Peace with all Israelis ..."
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'We are friends'

Arafat landed by helicopter just outside the new Hebron police headquarters at 12:45 p.m. (1045 GMT). The building is the former Israeli military headquarters where Palestinian activists were jailed during the occupation. An honor guard in green and black uniforms and armed with rifles lined up at the landing pad.

As he was driven to the police headquarters, where he delivered his speech from a balcony, Arafat sat atop the open sunroof of the car, reaching out to shake hands and throw kisses to the massive crowd.

Eighty percent of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control early Friday. The handover was originally to take place in March 1996, but was delayed because of the Israeli government's concerns for the safety of the roughly 500 Jewish settlers who live in the city amid more than 100,000 Palestinians.

Israel retains control of 20 percent of the city where the settlers live.

Following his speech, Arafat was asked if he trusted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Now we can say that we are friends and that we are partners in the peace process," he told CNN.


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