JERUSALEM, AP – Residents of a small West Bank settlement slated for evacuation began handing over their weapons to security officers on Wednesday as part of an effort to prevent violence during Israel”s upcoming withdrawal from the area.
With the start of the withdrawal just a week away, thousands of soldiers participated in their final dress rehearsal at a dusty farming community in southern Israel.
Beginning Aug. 17, Israel plans to pull out of all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small enclaves in the West Bank. About 9,000 settlers will be uprooted from their homes.
While most settlers are expected to leave peacefully, authorities are prepared for possible violence by hard-liners.
Security officials have gone on high alert since an extremist Jew opposed to the withdrawal opened fire on a crowded bus last week, killing four Israeli Arabs, before he was killed by an angry mob.
Assaf Mani, security director in the settlement of Homesh, said he was collecting weapons on Wednesday and Thursday and then planned to turn over the guns to the army.
"People are angry about this but not opposing it. They are turning in their weapons without incident," Mani said.
Israeli media said a similar collection was under way in the nearby settlement of Sanur. About 350 people live in the two communities.
Sanur, a former artists colony, has been taken over by a group of religious ideologues opposed to the pullout. Military officials did not return messages seeking comment.
Israel was taking additional precautions to try to calm tensions ahead of the withdrawal.
The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that Israel”s attorney general has ordered an Israeli-American seminary student deported to the United States due to fears he was planning to attack Arabs in an effort to derail the withdrawal.
The American, 18-year-old Saadia Hirschkop of Brooklyn, N.Y., agreed to be deported for 40 days instead of serving jail, the daily said. Two other extremists arrested with Hirschkop remained under administrative detention, a procedure allowing arrest without charge.
About 10,000 soldiers participated in their final exercise ahead of the pullout at Kerem Shalom, a communal farm along Israel”s border with Gaza.
The first soldiers moved into the area around sunrise, closing the village from all directions, then allowing police and paramilitary forces to move in. Mock Palestinian mortar shells were fired at the soldiers, who returned fire and continued their mission after several hours.
The soldiers also clashed with about 40 mock "residents" who fortified themselves on the roof of a building, screaming at soldiers and throwing stones and flour bags at the forces. One of the soldiers participating in the drill fell off the roof and had to be treated by paramedics.
In another scenario, two armed "terrorists" infiltrated the area and took several people hostage. Special army forces were being dispatched to the area.
Many Gaza settlers have stepped up preparations for their impending departure. Moving trucks have become an increasingly common sight on the roads and some are beginning to pack their belongings into shipping containers deposited on their front lawns.
Supermarket shelves were nearly empty and some restaurants were preparing to close.
The small settlement of Peat Sadeh in southern Gaza planned a farewell ceremony later Wednesday. Its 100 residents plan to move en masse to a farming area near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. Similar farewell ceremonies are planned in other settlements.
In other developments, Palestinian and Israeli officials agreed late Tuesday on a key issue — what to do with the rubble of the 21 Gaza settlements.
The Defense Ministry said Israel would tear down parts of the buildings and take in dangerous rubble, such as asbestos. The Palestinians would finish the job, with money provided by Israel and administered by the World Bank, and use some of the rubble for construction of a seaport.
The agreement is as much symbolic as practical. The two sides have been haggling over coordination issues for most of the year.