An initial contingent of 32 international observers have taken up their posts in Hebron in preparation for an Israeli troop redeployment from parts of the West Bank town.
The Norwegian observers arriving Tuesday in Hebron were the first of a group of 200 members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, an international observer force that has been given an initial three-month mandate to monitor the scheduled redeployment of Israeli troops in the often tense town.
The unarmed observers, driving white cars and wearing blue caps and jackets, were expected to be jointed soon by observers from other countries.
Hebron is the last of seven West Bank Palestinian population centers to be handed over to Palestinian self-rule under the terms of the Interim Agreement signed in September in Washington.
The redeployment was originally to take place in late March, but Israel postponed the move after a series of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel in late February and early March.
The redeployment is now expected to take place after Israel’s May 29 national elections.
Under the planned transfer of authority to the Palestinians, Israeli troops will withdraw from 85 percent of Hebron. But they will remain stationed in the Jewish precincts to provide security for the some 400 Jewish settlers who live among approximately 100,000 Palestinians.
An international observer force last arrived in Hebron in May 1994.
The force remained there for six months in an effort to restore calm to the town after Kiryat Arba settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein carried out the February 1994 Hebron massacre, killing 29 Palestinian worshipers in a mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.