|Barak orders troops out of Joseph's Tomb|
|10/07/00 at 02:56:34|
|NABLUS, West Bank (AP) - Israeli soldiers on Saturday pulled out of Joseph's Tomb, a tiny enclave that had come under steady fire from Palestinian gunmen for the past week, and Palestinians celebrated the withdrawal as a victory.|
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's decision to leave the outpost was the first time Israel has relinquished territory as a direct result of Palestinian violence.
Palestinian police quickly took charge and kept away about 300 jubilant civilians who planted a Palestinian flag on one of the cement walls of Joseph's Tomb.
``It's a victory for the Palestinian people over the Israelis,'' said Haitham Joudeh, a 22-year-old student, as people in the crowd kissed one another in joy. ``We are proud of those who died this week. We understand that they had to, for this to happen.''
Six Palestinians have been killed at the site by Israeli fire since gun battles first erupted there a week ago. The fighting was part of a wave of violence that has swept across the West Bank and Gaza Strip since hard-line opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews - a move many have blamed for provoking the bloodshed. So far 77 people have died, most Palestinian.
An Israeli border policeman bled to death inside the tomb compound last weekend after Palestinian gunmen barred Israeli medics from reaching the compound for several hours.
The army said the pullout was temporary.
``The site was evacuated with the understanding that the Palestinian Authority is committed to protecting it,'' the army said in a statement. The decision was taken by Barak on the recommendation of his military chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet security service.
Troops withdrew before dawn Saturday. One Israeli soldier was shot during the evacuation and suffered moderate wounds, the army said.
The army said it had evacuated military equipment along with the troops, but it was not clear whether Jewish religious artifacts remained at the site.
The withdrawal could help create the conditions that would allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to order an end to the violence.
In its statement, the army said ``both sides are committed to save lives and reduce tensions'' now that the evacuation has been undertaken.
However, Barak is likely to come under heavy criticism from those who feel retreat under fire is a dangerous display of weakness, and could encourage more Palestinian violence. Barak is increasingly isolated politically because of the far-reaching proposals he made to Palestinians at the U.S.-sponsored talks at Camp David, in July.
Other Israelis have denounced Joseph's Tomb as a superfluous provocation. Some Jews believe the site is the tomb of the biblical patriarch, although most archaeologists ridicule that claim.
The site is also used as a Jewish seminary and about 30 students are typically bused in each day. Palestinians regarded the site as an anomaly: a tiny fenced-in building in a strongly nationalist town. A group of Diaspora Jews was paying a religious scribe to transcribe the biblical Book of Joshua there.
Sharon said he was visiting the mosque compound known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews to protest Barak's plans to share sovereignty of the site with Palestinians.
In a bid to reduce tensions on Friday, Israeli police relinquished policing of the compound to Palestinian security. At first, that appeared to be a success - Palestinian officials restrained youths from provoking Israeli forces elsewhere in the walled Old City.
But the sense of triumph led a mob of Palestinian youths to firebomb a police station and raise a Palestinian flag over the mosque compound, built over the ruins of the ancient Jewish temples.
That led to sharp criticism from members of Barak's shrinking coalition, and in the evening Israeli police commandos raided the site and removed the flag.
Barak's announcement came as the United Nations Security Council huddled into the early morning hours Saturday for the second night in a row in New York, negotiating a Palestinian-backed resolution condemning the violence and calling for an inquiry into it. The United States late Friday threatened to veto the draft if changes weren't made and then successfully got another delay on the vote until at least later Saturday.
``The United States is not going to support a resolution which is incompatible with our national interests or the facts as we see them on the ground,'' U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said.
[b]interesting thing in here is (besides the apparent bias) that the US is angry at the UN for writing up a resolution in which its "interests" are not addressed. Gee, i wonder what those interests coul be.[/b]