Deir al-Balah, in the Gaza Strip, became the first town to come under Palestinian self-rule on 11 May, a week after the PLO and Israel signed the autonomy agreement in Cairo. Despite the delays, Palestinians in Gaza greeted their new security forces with euphoria. Attention, particularly from the US, is moving towards the Syrian-Israeli track of the peace talks which have so far shown few tangible signs of progress.

The first group of 157 Palestinian police arrived in Deir al-Balah after facing lengthy Israeli delays at the Rafah border crossing. Each of the Kalashnikov rifles that will be carried by the new force was checked by the Israeli security and each name passed through detailed clearance procedures. Six senior Palestinian officers also crossed the Allenby bridge from Jordan into the West Bank to inspect installations in Jericho.

Israeli Environment Minister Yossi Sarid said in Jerusalem that Israel would complete the handover of authority to the PLO in the autonomous areas of Jericho by 13 May and the Gaza Strip by 18 May. The PLO has said it expects to deploy 1,800 police in Gaza and 400 police in Jericho of the 9,000-strong force by mid May.

The handover of administrative powers to the Palestine National Authority may take longer because of delays in announcing the members of the 24- member cabinet. The cabinet will include 12 Palestinians from inside the occupied territories and 12 members from outside. But a draft list drawn up by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has been received unenthusiastically by many of those named to serve.

The chairman’s invitations have been refused by those inside and outside the occupied territories, including members of the PLO team who have been actively involved in negotiating areas of the autonomy agreement, Reuters reported on 8 May. Executive committee member Samir Ghoushe told Reuters: ‘More work is also needed to define the duties of the authority and its internal rules.’

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher was due travel to Damascus on 15 May to try to spur on the Syrian-Israeli talks, after making an extensive shuttle tour of the region at the beginning of the month. US officials have played down the visit and gave no details of what would be discussed.