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Palestinians React to Gaza Withdrawal


Now the settler withdrawal is expected to bring real improvements in the daily lives of many of the 1.4 million Palestinians who live inside the Gaza Strip, but it's also happening with very little participation from the Palestinian Authority. It's struggling to appear in control of the situation as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Gaza City.

PETER KENYON reporting:

At midnight, as the Israeli army closed the entrance to the southern bloc of Jewish settlements commencing the Sharon government's unilateral withdrawal of the Jews from Gaza, Hamas supporters gathered in Gaza City's central mosque. It was not necessarily the first sound the Palestinian Authority wanted to be heard as the pullout begins.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Group: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: They were there to give credit where they believe it's due--to God and the Islamist faction responsible for numerous violent attacks against Israelis. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the withdrawal won't change the Hamas agenda.

Mr. SAMI ABU ZUHRI (Hamas Spokesman): (Through Translator) Because this major victory would not be achieved but for resistance. And, therefore, Hamas and the resistance forces will hold on to their weapons protecting our people and continuing our projected resistance. As we say, the weapon is the weapon, the Qassam is the Qassam until the occupation is uprooted.

KENYON: Hamas has said there will be no Qassam rockets fired at what it calls the retreating occupiers. The Sharon government, anxious not to appear to be leaving under fire, has promised a heavy military response if any terrorist attacks do occur during the withdrawal. For the Palestinian Authority, the sudden absence of Israeli settlers and soldiers represents the opportunity and the risks of governing.

Cabinet Minister Mohammed Dahlan put the question to clan and tribal leaders at a meeting yesterday in Gaza City, asking, `What will we do on the day after?' Dahlan seemed well aware that many Gazans see the authority and the Fatah movement Old Guard as corrupt. He pledged that this precious land soon to be in Palestinian hands for the first time in decades would not be carved out by well-connected officials. He said landownership records would be carefully scrutinized for fraud.

Minister MOHAMMED DAHLAN (Cabinet, Israel): (Through Translator) I can assure you that whoever thinks that by forging a piece of paper he will own land, yes, he will get a place, but it will be a place in prison.

KENYON: Dahlan said some of the land would go to housing projects for Palestinians whose homes had been demolished during the intifadah. The land around the settlement of Netzarim would become part of the seaport the authority hopes to construct. Dahlan told the clan leaders to tell their families how important it is to avoid chaos in the coming days. He said when Hamas issues threats, it jeopardizes what he called a difficult but historic chance that must be seized.

Min. DAHLAN: (Through Translator) Up until now, our brothers in the factions are hesitating. They take one step forward and two steps back, but we will not give up. It's your duty as leaders of society not to allow internal fighting or to allow any faction to take the law into their hands.

KENYON: Across the street from the hall where Dahlan was speaking, 26-year-old Tariq Abu Diay(ph) happily unfurled the hottest selling item in his souvenir shop. It's a Palestinian flag emblazoned with the words: Free Gaza. For the first time in decades, the phrase sounds more like a declaration than a plea.

Mr. TARIQ ABU DIAY: (Through Translator) This is the most selling flag. I sell every day hundreds of them, but even I expect to sell thousands.

KENYON: Gazans still worry about the future. They know the Israeli army isn't going far and many of them don't trust the Palestinian Authority when it promises to use the lands being vacated for the public good, but for the moment, they can look forward to tangible gains coming soon--being able to drive south to Rafah without waiting for hours at military checkpoints, walking on the beaches of the southern Gaza Strip and getting back to work to fill a sudden demand for construction workers.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Gaza.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.