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Arafat’s Historic Visit Winds Down with Vow to Return to Live in Gaza

Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat’s historic visit to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho is scheduled to end Tuesday afternoon when he crosses the Allenby Bridge into Jordan.

But Arafat’s departure from the autonomous districts will be only temporary, according to Nabil Sha’ath, a senior Arafat aide who will serve as minister of planning and international cooperation in the Palestinian governing council.

Arafat will be back “in about 10 days. He is going to live in Gaza,” said Sha’ath.

“He is just leaving for a visit to Paris, and then he will be coming back to his base — Gaza, back home,” Sha’ath said.

Arafat’s departure to Jordan will bring to an end a five-day visit to the newly autonomous Palestinian regions that was marked by adulation among Palestinians and a combination of hope, fear and anger among watchful Israelis.

Arafat is set to arrive in Jericho from Gaza in a helicopter made available by Egypt. His bodyguards made their way to Jericho on Monday afternoon, traveling through Israel in special convoys.

After speaking in Jericho’s central square on Tuesday, Arafat is scheduled to swear in the 18 members of the Palestinian governing council over which he presides.

The council will have responsibility for Palestinian affairs in Gaza and Jericho until elections are held later this year.

The association of settlers in Judea and Samaria gave notice Monday evening that they would cover roads leading to Jericho with nails in an effort to prevent Palestinians living in the West Bank from going to Jericho to hear Arafat.

Arafat arrived in Gaza from Egypt on Friday afternoon. That day, he addressed crowds in Gaza City from the old Parliament building which until recently served as headquarters for the Israeli army in Gaza.

‘WE SHALL REBUILD OUR INSTITUTIONS’

His speech, which was marked by conciliatory references to Israel and to Palestinian foes of the Israeli-PLO peace initiative, included references to his oft-repeated desire to visit eastern Jerusalem to pray.

The central square in Gaza was only half full for Arafat’s initial speech, although the crowds grew in size and enthusiasm during later appearances throughout the weekend.

The “peace of the brave” signed last September in Washington must be cultivated assiduously, Arafat reminded both his Palestinian audience and listeners in Israel which had removed its troops from Gaza a month earlier.

“We shall rebuild our institutions that the occupation destroyed,” Arafat told his audience. “We want to build a homeland of free men, a homeland of democracy, freedom and equality.”

Among other highlights of Arafat’s visit to Gaza were a trip to dedicate a juice factory in Gaza that had been partly funded by the Italian government and that represented the first economic enterprise in Gaza to result from the peace initiative; the convening of the Palestinian governing council for a largely celebratory session; and triumphal processions through several refugee camps in both the northern and southern sections of Gaza.

His Gaza visit also included receptions for dignitaries and delegations of all varieties, including a group of Israeli Arabs.

The visit touched off a weekend of demonstrations in Israel.

On Monday, the Knesset voted down no-confidence motions brought by right-wing political groups seeking to condemn the government for permitting the Arafat visit.

Responding to the prime minister’s stinging criticisms of massive right-wing demonstrations over the weekend, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu attacked what he termed Rabin’s “verbal hooliganism,” a charge that caused Rabin to leave the Knesset chamber in anger.

Earlier, in response to opposition demands that he personally reply to the no-confidence motion, Rabin said he did not choose to reply to those “who harbored in their ranks those who call me a traitor and a murderer.”

Rabin was referring to posters throughout Jerusalem that labeled him a traitor as well as to the cries of “Rabin, murderer, traitor!” that punctuated speeches at a right-wing protest rally attended by tens of thousands of demonstrators Saturday night in Zion Square.

On Sunday, Rabin lashed out at the right after the rally ended in a rampage through eastern Jerusalem.

His barbs were directed at demonstrators from the rally who vandalized Palestinian shops in eastern Jerusalem and stoned a U.S. Consulate building to denounce Arafat’s visit.

At least nine Israelis were injured and more than 50 reportedly were arrested.

“We are witnessing the creation of a vicious circle of partnership between the murderers of the Hamas and our extreme right-wing that is intent on destroying the peace process,” Rabin charged at a Labor Party forum.

He vowed that neither Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the peace process nor members of the Israeli right will succeed in disrupting the Israeli-PLO initiatives.

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