Home>News Center>World

Israel begins forcible evacuation in Gaza
Updated: 2005-08-17 18:53

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip - Israeli troops dragged sobbing Jewish settlers out of homes, synagogues and even a nursery school Wednesday in a massive evacuation, fulfilling Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's promise to end Israel's 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip, reported the Associated Press.

Israeli border police and soldiers detain a Jewish settler in the settlement of Neve Dekalim in the Gaza Strip Wednesday Aug. 17, 2005. At Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement and a focus of resistance, hundreds of troops grabbed settlers and pushed them into buses, as the army began the forcible removal of people who refused orders to leave the area. [AP]

Soldiers carried away worshippers still wrapped in their white prayer shawls. Men ripped their shirts in a Jewish mourning ritual. Women in a synagogue pressed their faces against the curtain covering the Torah scroll. Others kicked and screamed as they were loaded onto buses, as the smell of burning garbage rose in the air.

One woman in Neve Dekalim, the largest Gaza settlement, shouted, "I don't want to, I don't want to," as she was carried away.

Troops also scuffled with protesters in the isolated settlement of Morag, while irate settlers at another outpost employed Nazi-era imagery ! including stars of David on their T-shirts ! to protest the military's actions.

One soldier was slightly injured by a settler, but there were no signs of serious violence, and it appeared many residents were coming to terms with the withdrawal. "I believed that God would not let this happen, but this is not true," said a Morag woman clutching a baby.

Some 14,000 troops had entered five Jewish settlements ! Morag, Neve Dekalim, Bedolah, Ganei Tal and Tel Katifa. Security officials said the goal was to clear out the 21 Gaza settlements in just a few days, far more quickly than originally planned.

Col. Israel Ziv, a commander in Neve Dekalim, said about 500 to 600 families remained in Gaza ! about one-third of the total population ! and that he expected more to leave throughout the day. But thousands of pullout opponents who infiltrated Gaza in recent weeks also remained. Ziv said the army planned to clear out the southern half of Gush Katif, the main bloc of Gaza settlements, on Wednesday.

One commander of a small army unit, identified only as Yitzhak, tearfully hugged a settler in Neve Dekalim. "It's not easy. These are very special people," he said. "But we have a mission and we will carry it out, and I think these people understand that."

A grizzled colonel, also with tears in his eyes, shook hands with a young father as he explained it was time to go.

Sharon called the scenes "heartbreaking" and praised the restraint of both settlers and soldiers.

"It's impossible to watch this, and that includes myself, without tears in the eyes," he said. "My heart is broken when I see these things."

Sharon appealed to pullout opponents to avoid physical and verbal confrontation with the security forces. "Attack me, I am responsible for this, attack me, accuse me, don't attack the men and women in uniform," he said.

Some teenage activists showed fierce resistance. Troops dragged flailing protesters, some as young as 12, onto the buses. "I want to die," screamed one youth as he was hauled away. Several soldiers were hit by white paint bombs, and protesters smashed the window of the bus.

Settlers were being removed at a rapid pace, with soldiers bundling them onto buses one after the other. About 10 buses filled with protesters drove away, the army said.

A settler woman in Morag was arrested after lightly wounding a soldier by sticking a medical needle into her, the army said.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Neve Dekalim's main synagogue for morning prayers early Wednesday, clapping and singing songs that expulsion would not happen. Several youngsters climbed onto the roof of the building, while others formed circles or milled about in the courtyard. "You should be ashamed at what you are doing," screamed a woman who was pushing a baby stroller.

At midmorning, the building remained packed with protesters. "I believe in the messiah," sang a group of teenage girls. Many cried as they pressed their faces to the curtain covering the Torah.

Veteran residents repeatedly doused the flames raging in garbage containers and complained that the young die-hards had no right to cause trouble.

In the Morag settlement, troops carried dozens of worshippers out of the local synagogue. Two soldiers escorted out a crying man covered by a prayer shawl.

Under Israel's plan to leave Gaza and four West Bank settlements, residents were given until midnight Tuesday to leave their homes or face forcible removal and the loss of up to one-third of government compensation. Officials said about half of Gaza's 8,500 settlers left before the deadline.

In Morag, soldiers encountered cement blocks and burning garbage containers, and briefly clashed with residents. But as the day dragged on, protesters gradually surrendered.

Several families at a nursery were escorted onto a bus that was headed out of the Gaza Strip as troops entered the community's synagogue to remove settlers.

A female soldier with tears in her eyes held a toddler in her arms, gave him some candy and implored, "Where is his mother?"

Soldiers also removed families from their homes. The women walked out under army escort, while the men let themselves be carried. One resident, Eran Hendel, lay on the floor, read a biblical psalm and ripped his shirt collar in a sign of mourning before being carried away.

In the hardline outpost of Kerem Atzmona, irate settlers employed Nazi-era imagery. As the soldiers arrived, settlers shouted at them: "Nazi!" "Refuse orders!" and "Jews don't expel Jews."

In Kfar Darom, another center of fierce resistance, 65 families and 2,000 protesters barricaded themselves behind barbed wire, but said they wouldn't resist violently, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

Elsewhere, there were signs that resistance would be less fierce than expected. In Ganei Tal, some residents said they expected everyone to leave voluntarily by the afternoon. In Tel Katifa, the military reached agreement with residents that they would leave voluntarily, Israel TV said.

In Netzer Hazani, residents requested a 24-hour delay in the evacuation and were in negotiations with government officials. Anita Tucker, a spokesman for the settlement, said residents were seeking adequate short-term housing solutions and assurances that they could leave in a dignified manner.

Security officials said the residents of Netzarim, another hardline settlement, have reached agreement with the military to leave voluntarily next Monday. Some residents denied a deal had been reached.

Once Gaza is cleared of civilians, it will take troops about a month to dismantle military installations and relinquish the coastal strip to Palestinian control.

The pullout is part of Israel's plan to "disengage" from the Palestinians. Israeli leaders say giving up Gaza, which is home to 1.3 million Palestinians, will improve Israeli security.

Palestinians have welcomed the evacuation but who also fear that Israel is trying to draw borders without negotiations.

Japanese PM launches general election campaign
Katrina slams US Gulf Coast, oil rigs adrift
Japan's 6 parties square off in TV debate
  Today's Top News     Top World News

President Hu Jintao: Gender equality crucial



Special grants offered to poor students



EU takes steps to unblock China textiles



Farmers sue county for illegal land use



Search for 123 trapped miners suspended



Hurricane Katrina rocks New Orleans


  Bush promises post-storm help for victims
  Sharon: Not all settlements in final deal
  Hurricane Katrina rocks New Orleans
  Sri Lanka PM focuses on ending civil war
  Musharraf warns Pakistan Islamic schools
  Katrina may cost insurers $25 bln
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  News Talk  
  Are the Republicans exploiting the memory of 9/11?