Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Evacuation of Gaza Strip Nears Completion | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55288998

An Israeli flag is seen through the flames of a bonfire set by settlers (AFP)

An Israeli flag is seen through the flames of a bonfire set by settlers (AFP)

An Israeli flag is seen through the flames of a bonfire set by settlers (AFP)

KATIF, Gaza Strip, AP -Hundreds of Israeli troops poured into the Jewish settlement of Katif on Sunday after an army bulldozer broke through its locked gates — clearing a fire of hay, tires and wooden planks — for the final phase the Gaza evacuation. Katif is one of at least three Gaza settlements that troops plan to empty throughout the day, as the evacuation of Gaza outpaced even the most optimistic predictions.

Forces also entered Slav, where few families remained, and encountered no resistance.

Troops began evacuating the 21 Gaza settlements on Wednesday, more than a year after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon concluded that Israel could no longer defend its 38-year-old occupation of the coastal strip, which Palestinians claim as part of a future state. The pullout has provoked widespread opposition within Israel, but the forcible evacuations have proceeded with relatively little violence, and are expected to be concluded by mid-week.

That could change when troops go to the northern West Bank to clear out four small settlements later this week. Residents of two of the settlements have already left on their own, but security officials said the most violent confrontations of the evacuation were expected to take place in the remaining two, Sanur and Homesh.

In comments at the start of a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Sharon called acts of violent resistance &#34hooliganism.&#34 Protesters at the settlement of Kfar Darom last week hurled skin-burning paint thinner and other objects at troops sent to evacuate them, injuring dozens of soldiers.

In Sunday”s evacuations, about 150 families and an unknown number of reinforcements were to be removed from the settlements of Katif, Atzmona and Slav. Military officials said troops were also prepared to evacuate the northern Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai, pending Cabinet approval later in the day. Also, three busloads of troops arrived outside of Atzmona, preparing to enter.

Police commander Meir Ben-Yishai said 56 families and 300 to 400 non-residents who had come to reinforce resistance to the pullout were in Katif on Sunday morning.

Dozens of youths clapped and sang as the massive bonfire near the gates roared. But police spokesman Avi Zelba said he didn”t expect any violence at Katif or any of the other settlements scheduled for evacuation on Sunday.

On Sunday, an emotional memorial ceremony was held for Katif settler Tali Hatuel, 34, and her four children, ages 2-11, who were killed in a Palestinian shooting ambush on a Gaza road in May 2004.

Mourners surrounded five plastic chairs, each bearing a handwritten note with the name of dead, and an orange ribbon tied to the back. A memorial candle was placed on each chair, and crying women lit the candles, as men swayed back and forth in prayer. Hatuel”s sobbing husband, David, was comforted by family and friends.

Black smoke billowed from a small fire of burning trash and tires at the entrance to Atzmona, and a tattered orange protest flag fluttered in the wind.

Worshippers, most dressed in orange protest shirts bearing the motto, &#34This faith can”t be stopped,&#34 gathered at the settlement”s synagogue for a morning prayer service.

Hundreds of worshippers, including Israeli soldiers, prayed in the synagogue of the Netzarim settlement, which is to be evacuated Monday. The worshippers formed long lines, each man placing his hands on the shoulder of the man before him, and slowly moved through the synagogue.

Netzarim is a hardline settlement, but residents have been negotiating the terms of a non-violent departure with the army.

An official from a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Yigal Cohen-Orgad, said Netzarim”s 600 residents would be relocated in dormitories there. It was not immediately clear whether they intended to remain in Ariel temporarily.

Other Gaza evacuees have also resettled in temporary housing in the West Bank.

Ariel is one of the settlement blocs Sharon hopes to hold on to in a final peace deal with the Palestinians. He hopes that by giving up Gaza, Israel will able to cement its hold on major settlement blocs, where most of Israel”s more than 240,000 settlers live.

Officials said they hoped all 21 Gaza settlements would be empty by Tuesday. Crews were to head to emptied settlements on Sunday to pack up the belongings of residents who were forcibly evacuated, and to start demolishing houses en masse as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to clear the land for Palestinian development. A tiny outpost was torn down Friday.

Troops have begun to dig 25-foot deep trenches around the evacuated settlements to keep Palestinians from entering.

Before the operation began, Israeli leaders had said it might take three weeks to remove all the settlers from Gaza, taking into account armed attacks from Palestinians or extremist Israelis. But it looks like it will be finished after only a week.

The Cabinet was meeting in its regular weekly session Sunday in Jerusalem to authorize the dismantling of Elei Sinai, the two other northern Gaza settlements and the four in the West Bank, signaling the final phase of the evacuation. The two other northern Gaza settlements, Dugit and Nissanit, were virtually empty on Sunday, their residents having left before troops could come to evict them.

Palestinians sit in front of their house near the Jewish settlement of Katif (R)

Palestinians sit in front of their house near the Jewish settlement of Katif (R)

Palestinian boys wave flags at the Rafah refugee camp southern Gaza Strip (R)

Palestinian boys wave flags at the Rafah refugee camp southern Gaza Strip (R)