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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Makes Historic Return to Jericho

JERICHO -- Yasser Arafat stepped from a helicopter on to West Bank soil Tuesday after 27 years in exile and was sworn in as head of the new Gaza and Jericho self-rule authority. The PLO leader vowed in a croaking voice to a modest crowd to expand his tiny self-rule enclave of Jericho into a Palestinian state ruled from East Jerusalem. "This effort will continue until we set up a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," he told a crowd of young men who trampled down a retaining fence and surged toward the leader. Arafat, 64, is to tackle the first part of that issue -- removing Israeli troops from towns across the West Bank -- in a Wednesday meeting in Paris with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "The redeployment cannot be delayed past next August," Saeb Erekat, a member of the new administration. "This will be the first point we will discuss with the Israeli side in Paris." Arafat at times disappeared behind a phalanx of anxious police although reporters estimated the crowd at 5,000 to 10,000, far less than the 200,000 Jericho authorities had predicted. Arafat flew from the Gaza Strip -- the other self-rule area where he arrived last Friday -- aboard an Egyptian helicopter escorted by an Israeli air force helicopter. That avoided a drive across Israel where Jewish settlers tried to block roads to the Jordan Valley town. The settlers oppose Arafat's interim self-rule accord with Israel. Arafat cemented his limited control of the Gaza Strip and Jericho by swearing in 12 members of the Palestinian Authority, which will administer self-rule. Arafat placed his own right hand on a Koran covered with white shells to take the oath, then swore in one Christian and 11 Moslem members of the 25-member authority. By holding the ceremony in Jericho rather than Gaza, Arafat asserted his claim to all the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967. Talks on the final status are due to begin within the next two years although Israel says it will not give up East Jerusalem. Arafat walked in a swirl of dust past an honor guard to a makeshift reviewing stand. "With our lives and our blood we will sacrifice for you, O Palestine," the crowd chanted at Arafat's prompting. But his speech was interrupted as security collapsed and the crowd lunged toward the podium. Arafat appealed for Palestinian unity to make the self-rule accord work as a first step toward building the long-sought Palestinian state. The leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization reviewed a century of Arab-Jewish struggle in which the existence of Palestinians was often denied: "But I can tell you, nobody canceled the Palestinian people." Among those greeting Arafat were members of the small Neturei Karta ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, which objects to the Zionist movement that created Israel. Officials accused Israeli authorities of barring thousands of Palestinians. The Israeli government denied this and reporters saw no sign of troops blocking buses bringing Palestinians to Jericho.