Friday, August 19, 2005

Palestinian prayers mark pullout
By Lucy Williamson BBC News, Gaza City
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has joined Friday prayers in Gaza City to give thanks for the Israeli withdrawal.
The prayer service was also held to remember Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers during Israel's 38-year occupation.
Palestinian groups have been marking Israel's pullout from Gaza this week with rallies and marches.
But for many ordinary people the celebrations have taken longer to feel real.
As the first television pictures of Israel's withdrawal bounced onto screens across Gaza City, Palestinians watched, curious and pleased, but largely impassive.
To the Israelis we say, 'You have pulled out of Gaza. Tomorrow you will pull out from the West Bank and Jerusalem, God willing' Yusuf Selama Palestinian religious official in a sermon
In the nearby grocery store, the manager began the week by telling me: "I don't believe it will happen. The Israelis never keep their promises."
But five days of pictures and news reports have begun to change his mind.
"What do you think will happen with the borders?" he asked me excitedly on Friday morning, now that Israel is leaving.
Next step
Palestinians living next-door to the Jewish settlements have also been wary of celebrating too soon. They have watched as the army observation posts empty as the settlers leave, but the red-roofed houses remain and the pullout will not feel real, many say, until they are gone too.
The Palestinian Authority has shown more confidence. A rally last Friday at the harbour in Gaza City kicked off days of marches and celebrations by groups across Gaza's political spectrum.
The walls of the parliament building here have been decorated by Palestinian artists and a large multi-coloured balloon floats in the sky above Jabaliya refugee camp.
Now that the news is sinking in, thoughts are turning to the next stage of the process, the day when Palestinians take over the land.
The PA has laid careful plans to ensure the handover of settlements is as smooth as it can be, but many here say the excitement building among ordinary Palestinians could mean a rush to see inside the settlements for themselves.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/08/19 15:23:50 GMT© BBC MMV


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