NETZARIM, Gaza Strip (Reuters) -Israeli troops marched unopposed into the Gaza Strip”s last Jewish settlement of Netzarim on Monday to complete the evacuation of the territory after nearly four decades of occupation.
But in the West Bank, radicals opposed to ceding settlements on any land that Palestinians seek for a state dug in for a last stand at two enclaves that are also due to be removed under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s pullout plan.
There was no sign in Netzarim of the noisy protests or burning barricades that greeted the evacuation of some of the other 20 settlements in Gaza last week. Residents agreed to go quietly after a mass prayer with the soldiers.
Even before troops arrived, the seven-branched menorah was lifted carefully down from the roof of Netzarim”s synagogue.
"I wanted to say goodbye with honor," said settler David Farash. "I wanted to be with my family here. the heart breaks and there are no words."
The religious farming community, one of the first settlements established in Gaza after the 1967 war, had been a frequent target for militants. Palestinians particularly resented Netzarim because it cut the strip in two.
Despite the scenes of settlers being dragged weeping from homes and protesters carried screaming from synagogues, evacuations of the 8,500 Gaza settlers have gone more than twice as fast as planned.
But more clashes are expected at Sanur and Homesh, two West Bank settlements due to be removed on Tuesday.
Pullout opponents hope to make those withdrawals so traumatic it will be much harder to ever consider giving up more settlements in the West Bank — to which Israelis see a much stronger biblical claim than to tiny Gaza.
Thanking evacuation squads on Sunday, Sharon stressed there would be no further unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, where Israel aims to keep major settlements, the biggest of which house tens of thousands.
"There will be building in the settlement blocs," he said, quoted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper. "I will build."
Sharon says further withdrawals will only come through talks with the Palestinians, which in turn depend on militants being disarmed under a U.S.-backed "road map." Israel has failed to meet its own commitment to freeze settlement building under that plan.
The World Court says Jewish settlements are illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.
Netzarim residents will move to temporary homes at a college campus in a West Bank settlement.
Israeli forces finished emptying the main Gaza bloc of Gush Katif on Sunday. Bulldozers set about razing the red-roofed homes and neat lawns under a deal with the Palestinians, eyeing the space to house some of Gaza”s densely packed population.
A full handover may not happen before October.
Palestinians are glad to see the back of the Gaza settlers and 500 more in the West Bank. But they fear Israel aims to keep forever most other West Bank settlements housing 230,000 people. Some 3.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza.
U.S.-led mediators see the move as a catalyst for reviving a Middle East peace process frozen since 2000.
Israeli rightists say the pullout is a victory for Palestinian militants, a view echoed by the gunmen.
In a sign of possible violence by protesters over the evacuation of the West Bank settlements, hundreds of young ultranationalists blocked bulldozers trying to carve out a camp for the army near Sanur on Sunday, scuffling with troops.
"In Gaza, we received tears. In the West Bank, we”ll get a lot of sweat and everyone is praying we won”t see blood," wrote Alex Fishman in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Israel”s biggest.