Palestinians Go Back to School in Atmosphere of Relative Calm

Relative calm prevailed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Wednesday, as close to 200,000 Palestinian children went back to school.

As students returned to classes at some 1,100 elementary schools in the territories, parents and teachers prayed that their studies would not be interrupted by the authorities, who had shut down schools in the past when they became centers of intifada activism.

That is not likely to happen again, if Palestinians obey an order issued by the Unified Command of the uprising, which said that studies should not be mixed with political protest.

The first day of the school year coincided with the 1,000th day of the Palestinian uprising, which has subsided considerably in recent weeks. Security experts attributed the relative calm to the fact that all eyes are now directed to the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

The marked drop in casualties during the past weeks has been largely due to strict restraining orders issued to Israel Defense Force troops by Defense Minister Moshe Arens. Soldiers also were ordered to keep away from the vicinity of schools during study hours to reduce the possibility of clashes.

The tranquillity was broken, however, when, despite that order. Brig. Shaike Erez, head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, visited an elementary school in the West Bank town of El-Bireh. Stones were thrown at the schoolyard, a reminder of the potentially explosive situation.

The reopening of the schools will be gradual and will depend on individual situations. If the atmosphere remains calm, the Civil Administration plans to reopen junior high schools next week and high schools the following week.

A gradual reopening of schools also is taking place in the Gaza Strip.

All the colleges and universities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were closed in October 1987, two months before the intifada erupted. In February, 16 colleges were reopened, but the larger universities remained closed.

Next month, the University of Bethlehem will be reopened. But the more politically trouble-some universities, Bir Zeit in Ramallah and A-Najah in Nablus, will remain closed for the time being.

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