At 10 A.M. yesterday, Mohammed J., a resident of Jericho, heard shots. He thought they had to do with a local feud, but friends told him that Israeli military vehicles had been besieging the town's central prison for half an hour. They had no doubt: the target was Ahmed Saadat and his friends.
In other areas of the normally sleepy town, people gathered to protest. Mohammed J. could not have known at that point that an hour before, the British and American prison guards told their Palestinian counterparts they were leaving for a while. They got into their cars and left, was what some Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) prisoners managed to tell their families by cell phone.
News of the siege spread through Jericho, Gaza, Ramallah, and other cities, finally reaching news bulletins and TV. The reports concluded unequivocally: an Israeli-American-British plot. From the Israeli media they gleaned that the British had sent a letter to the Palestinian Authority stating their intent to withdraw their guards on March 14, out of concern for their safety. The PA claimed they had been promised that the British would let them know ahead of time, but they did not do so. PFLP people tended to believe PA spokesmen that they had no clear warning. "They want to divide us," a number of PFLP activists said.
Mohammed J., who lives about a kilometer from the jail, started hearing shooting and explosions. He thought he heard helicopter-gunship fire and stun grenades.
He found it hard to believe that the PA police would return fire. Suddenly people started to understand why in January the siege around Jericho was tightened: at night, the northern entrance, in the direction of Ramallah, which according to the Jericho agreement from a year ago was to be open, was closed.
During the day, a roadblock manned by soldiers checked each passenger carefully. Tzumud, Saadat's daughter, heard what happened from her friends at Bir Zeit University. Her mother, Abla, heard from friends and a PA official. Ahmed Saadat, spoke for the last time with his wife at 2:30 P.M. "He spoke to me the way he talked to the media," she said yesterday evening from her home in Ramallah, before the siege had been lifted. It was hard to know what she meant; whether his report to her was dry, or whether he meant, as he told Al Jazeera, that he would not surrender.
Her home, not far from the Muqata, was full of visitors: PFLP members, neighbors, relatives and friends.
They all watched the live broadcast on Al Jazeera. When the cameras caught a line of Palestinian prisoners and security men coming out of the jail into the dark and taking off their shirts, the people in Abla Saadat's living room said: "What humiliation, the whole world is watching."
At 6:45 P.M., someone called to say they had seen Saadat among those who surrendered. Surprise mixed with relief registered on her face. "That's the best outcome under the circumstances," she told her son, who called from Jordan where he is a student. "The main thing is that he feels well and he is alive," she added.
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