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Gaza settlers defy evacuation deadline
(AP)
Updated: 2005-08-17 08:41

Thousands of Jewish settlers and supporters defied a Tuesday deadline to leave Gaza, pelting Israeli troops with eggs and stones and dancing around the Torah in celebration of their resistance to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's historic plan to disengage from the Palestinians, reported AP.

While a few of Gaza's 21 communities were deserted by midnight, settlers in other outposts hunkered down to await a dawn confrontation with Israeli forces prepared to forcibly evict them. Settler leaders shouted over bullhorns for protesters to go to bed and conserve their strength. Youngsters slept on the synagogue lawn.

Earlier, some 2,000 Israeli troops poured into Neve Dekalim the largest settlement and epicenter of resistance.

An angry Israeli settler speaks his mind to Israeli troops after they march up his street and stopped in front of his home in the southern Gaza Strip settlement of Neve Dekalim during the first stages of Israel's forcible eviction of all remaining Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.(AFP
An angry Israeli settler speaks his mind to Israeli troops after they march up his street and stopped in front of his home in the southern Gaza Strip settlement of Neve Dekalim during the first stages of Israel's forcible eviction of all remaining Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.[AFP]
Soldiers marched through the gate and fanned out through the village. Commanders carried maps, and troops took up positions near the industrial zone, linking arms to form a cordon. Other soldiers went house-to-house, trying to persuade residents one last time to leave voluntarily.

At times, settlers and soldiers were reduced to tears as they argued over the wisdom of abandoning Gaza, Israeli-occupied land for 38 years and the focus of deadly Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades.

One woman was overheard telling a soldier how her mother was forced to pack her bags and flee Nazi Germany. "Just remember that you are the evil one who is throwing me out of my house," the woman said, rebuffing the soldier's offer of help.

Jewish settlers cry during scuffles with soldiers and police in the Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish settlements in the southern Gaza Strip August 16, 2005. REUTERS
Jewish settlers cry during scuffles with soldiers and police in the Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish settlements in the southern Gaza Strip August 16, 2005.[Reuters]
Moments before midnight, scores of settlers were in synagogues in several Gaza communities, dancing around sacred Torah scrolls. They waved flags and sang nationalist songs, protesting the eventual handing of the land to Palestinian control.

Israeli officials said about half of Gaza's 1,600 settlement families had left voluntarily. At least three settlements were abandoned, and several more were nearly deserted. The army said it would assist anyone who wanted to leave voluntarily, even after the deadline.

Earlier in Neve Dekalim, soldiers burst through the main gate to clear the way for about 120 moving trucks. Within hours, a crowd blocked the trucks from entering, and scuffles erupted when security forces tried to push the crowd back.

Protesters threw bottles, eggs and stones, and set fire to garbage bins and tires. Smoke blackened the air. Police said four officers were injured one by an unspecified liquid thrown in his face.

An Israeli settler dressed in an orange T-shirt speaks to two Israeli soldiers in the Morag settlement in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza Strip August 16, 2005.
An Israeli settler dressed in an orange T-shirt speaks to two Israeli soldiers in the Morag settlement in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza Strip August 16, 2005. [Reuters]
Settlers in several farming communities burned their greenhouses and homes rather than leave them behind. One man punched holes in the walls of his house with a sledgehammer.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he expected the evacuation to take about two weeks. "I look with hope to the future, that the price we are paying ... will in the end bring about a positive change in Israel's situation," he said.

Israeli authorities said once Gaza is cleared of civilians it will take several more weeks before Israel finishes dismantling military installations and relinquishes the coastal strip.

The fiercest resistance came from some 5,000 Jewish nationalists who slipped into Gaza in recent weeks to reinforce the anti-withdrawal camp. Police handcuffed several withdrawal opponents in Neve Dekalim, seeming to target the infiltrators.

Hundreds of die-hard opponents continued trying to reach Gaza, trampling over Israeli crops near the border to circumvent army roadblocks. Police set up more roadblocks late Tuesday to stop them, and since Monday night had detained 830 people trying to either get into Gaza or block roads to stop settlers from leaving, according to Israel Radio.

About 1,000 more protesters camped outside Sharon's Jerusalem residence.

Sharon has said giving up any territory and taking down settlements is very painful, and this week's confrontations could bolster his argument that Israel is making a huge concession that deserves international recognition.

By nightfall, three settlements Dugit, Peat Sadeh and Rafiah Yam were abandoned, and most residents had left three others. Several others were thinning out.

The military commander of the Gaza sector, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, said the army had been working with the Palestinian Authority on the evacuation and "cooperation is very good." At Israel's request, Palestinian police dispersed several marches that were threatening to move toward Israeli positions, he said.

The level of Palestinian attacks had fallen sharply, he said, with only three incidents recorded since the evacuation began Monday. No one was hurt.

Palestinians held noisy demonstrations in Gaza City to celebrate the pullout. Young men cruised the city in open cars, some firing rifles into the air and brandishing rocket launchers.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told his Cabinet he was forming eight teams to coordinate the takeover of settlement land, including representatives of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements.

The Gaza withdrawal is a landmark moment in the Mideast conflict. Although Israel has relinquished other land captured in 1967 to Egypt, in exchange for a peace treaty, this is the first Israeli pullout from territory claimed by Palestinians for their own state.

Sharon's critics say he's giving away Gaza and getting nothing in return. Some say Gaza is part of the Jews' biblical heritage, and Sharon has no right to abandon it.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent Sharon a message of support. "I greatly admire the courage with which you have developed and implemented this policy," he wrote.

On the last day in Gaza for most of them, settlers bade tearful farewells to the farms and gardens they fashioned from sand and scrub. Religious settlers called it a "funeral." Some settlers, especially those threatening to resist eviction, maintained a normal routine until the end.

Thousands at Neve Dekalim inaugurated a mikvah, or ritual bath, with dancing and joyous songs of prayer.

Stewart Tucker, a former Cleveland biology teacher who helped found Netzer Hazani, the first Gaza settlement, in 1975, harvested celery. "I don't know if we will get paid for it but at least we are picking," he said.

Day One of the evacuation saw little trouble. Troops refrained from forcing their way into settlements with eviction notices, warning settlers that anyone left in Gaza after midnight Tuesday would be evicted and could lose part of their government-promised compensation often amounting to several hundred thousand dollars.



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