KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip -Hundreds of Gaza pullout opponents barricaded themselves behind barbed wire in this hardline Jewish settlement”s synagogue Thursday, as security forces dragged screaming residents out of homes. Settlers elsewhere burned houses, fields and tires in protest.
On the second day of the forced evacuation of Gaza, troops encountered stiffer resistance than at the start of the operation Wednesday. But security officials said they expected to clear out all 21 Gaza settlements by Tuesday, more than two weeks ahead of schedule.
By nightfall, troops planned to have cleared out 18 of Gaza”s 21 settlements, police said.
On Thursday, troops entered several of the most hardline Gaza communities.
In the farming settlement of Netzer Hazani, protesters set fire to barricades, fields and houses, sending a huge plume of black smoke into the air. Youths in Shirat Hayam, a hardline beachfront outpost, burned tires and garbage. In Neve Dekalim, Gaza”s largest settlement, a standoff with hundreds of teenage extremists continued into a second day.
There was relatively little violence in Gaza on Wednesday — though a Jewish extremist in the West Bank shot dead four Palestinians in an apparent attempt to disrupt the Gaza pullout.
In Kfar Darom, where protesters barricaded themselves inside a synagogue, the army set up a special command center, and the army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, personally oversaw the operation. Soldiers formed several cordons around him to shield him from shouting settlers.
Thousands of soldiers had entered the settlement at dawn and quickly encircled the synagogue and two nearby buildings. After failed attempts to negotiate a peaceful surrender, troops began moving into homes.
"Why did you become a soldier, to be in this crazy situation?" screamed a young mother, cradling a baby, as soldiers entered her home.
In another house, a husband and wife lay on the floor, shrieking and clutching their small children. A soldier participating in the evacuation of a religious school suddenly disobeyed orders and was quickly carried away by troops.
Troops also burst into a nursery school crowded with protesters. People sang and danced as the troops entered, and about two dozen young children were playing with toys. Troops quickly cleared out the building.
The fiercest resistance was expected at Kfar Darom”s synagogue, where hundreds of protesters on the roof barricaded themselves behind rows of barbed wire.
Moti Cohen, who had come from Jerusalem to be with the settlers, said protesters have hoarded sand bags and cans of foam spray for the confrontation. A large banner draped over the facade read: "For the Lord will not abandon His people or abandon His land."
Residents jeered the forces throughout the day, driving several soldiers to tears. "You”re right. Cry like we are crying," shouted one settler who was loaded onto a bus, still wearing his white prayer shawl. By midday, 200 people had been removed, the army said.
Noga Cohen, who had three children maimed in a Palestinian shooting attack on a bus, said Israel was surrendering to Palestinian militants. On the door of her house was a sign. "In the event you knock on the door, you are a direct partner in the most terrible crime in the history of the nation of Israel."
Just a few yards outside Kfar Darom, dozens of Palestinians stood on the roofs of their houses watching the evacuation.
"For the first time in the last few years I”m standing here without any fear that Israelis will shoot at me because their battle today is against themselves," said Mohammed Bashir, a Palestinian farmer.
While most troops focused on Kfar Darom Thursday, they also returned to Neve Dekalim, the focus of evacuation operations on the first day.
About 1,500 outside "reinforcements" — most of them teenage activists from outside the settlement — remained holed up in the synagogue.
One security official said he expected part of the group at the Neve Dekalim synagogue to leave peacefully and a smaller hardcore group of resisters to put up more of a struggle. He said protesters would be allowed to have a prayer service before the evacuation began.
"We don”t want to use force but if we have to we will," said police spokesman Avi Zelba.
Hundreds of men at the synagogue were praying or readying holy books. Some two dozen had ripped their shirts in a sign of mourning. One of them, Oren Ozeri, said he was praying for a miracle. "This is a war against God. They are desecrating a place holy to God."
Outside, hundreds of troops formed human chains ringing the building. Protesters formed chains of their own opposite the soldiers, in many cases pleading and arguing with them. Some soldiers broke down crying and were escorted by their commanders to a quiet place to calm down.
In the small settlement of Netzer Hazani, troops faced off with settlers on either side of a burning barricade of garbage containers and tires soaked in gasoline. There was a pall of smoke over the settlement after settlers burned trees and brush nearby. A firetruck and large bulldozer cleared out the area, and troops poured into the settlement.
Residents pelted the firetruck with eggs and shouted at the soldiers, who used megaphones to order the settlers back into their homes. Most complied, though several emerged later to try to block an army bulldozer from clearing a path for troops.
Troops also entered the small settlement of Gan Or and Shirat Hayam, a small hardline outpost, as well. In Gan Or, one house was set on fire, and one family barricaded themselves in their home. The army declared a curfew in Al-Mawasi, a Palestinian town adjacent to Shirat Hayam, to protect settlers and soldiers during the pullout.
So far the pullout”s worst violence occurred not in Gaza, but in the West Bank. A Jewish settler, apparently despondent over the withdrawal, opened fire at Palestinian workers, killing four.
Hamas pledged revenge, but a spokesman for the Islamic militant group indicated the group would not attack exiting Israelis in Gaza since it wants the withdrawal to be completed as soon as possible.
After the West Bank shooting, three mortar shells and a homemade rocket fired from Palestinian territory exploded near emptied Gaza settlements. No one was hurt.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the shooting and appealed to settlers to direct their anger at him, not at the soldiers.
Sharon proposed his "disengagement plan" two years ago to ease Israel”s security burden and help preserve Israel”s Jewish character by placing Gaza”s 1.3 million Palestinians outside the country”s boundaries. Israel has occupied Gaza for 38 years.
The Palestinian Authority and the United States want the pullout to be the beginning of the "road map" peace process, meant to bring about an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Palestinian militants are portraying the pullout as a victory for their suicide bombings and rocket attacks, and some Israelis fear they will resume their violence once the withdrawal is complete.