A New Day in Hebron

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HEBRON, West Bank: Just before dawn on Friday, life in Hebron changed forever. As crowds of Hebron residents cheered and set off fireworks, a convoy of Israeli army jeeps pulled out of the military headquarters in Hebron. The Israeli and Palestinian commanders shook hands at the gate, and Palestinian police streamed into the headquarters. Hebron, after 30 years of Israeli occupation, was occupied no longer. "This is the happiest day of my life," one officer shouted, flashing a V-sign from inside a window. Within an hour, some 400 Palestinian police had taken control of the prescribed 80 percent of Hebron, and the Israeli army said its withdrawal was complete. The agreement had allowed ten days for the pullout, but both sides worked quickly, to give militants of either side less opportunity for violence. Israel's parliament approved the withdrawal by an 87-17 vote late Thursday, after a full day of sometimes acrid debate. Netanyahu was quick to reassure. "We are not leaving Hebron." he said. "We are remaining in all the parts of the city where the Jewish community existed and exists and will continue to exist." But for jubilant Palestinians, everything was different. Jibril Rajoub, Arafat's West Bank security chief, was at the Israeli military headquarters for the historic turnover. "I was detained here five times," said Rajoub, who spent 17 years in Israeli jails, including the one at the Hebron military headquarters. "This is the first time I enter as a free man."