8/16/2005

BBC: Deadline for Gaza pullout expires

Wow! I gotta hand it to Sharon, this pullout is being extremely painful but he is keeping his word. It is the right thing to do, but since when this has been a reason to do things in that region ? -- law

The deadline for Jewish settlers to voluntarily leave the Gaza Strip has expired and they now face being removed by Israeli troops.

The head of Israel's military in Gaza, Brig Gen Dan Harel, said force will not be used to evict settlers until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

Hours earlier busloads of soldiers drove into Gaza to take up positions.

The army says more than half of the settlers have gone, but there has been fierce resistance at some settlements.

Army's resolve

Gen Harel, who is overseeing the eviction process, made it clear that the troops were keen to ensure the withdrawal takes place peacefully, but that they are determined to carry out their orders.

"We informed the leaders of the settlers about our decision. The evacuation will not be violent, at least until tomorrow [Wednesday]," he said.

"We're going to outnumber everybody. We have the technology, the knowledge and the will to confront all those," who are try to stop us carrying out our duties.

Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement in Gaza, would be among the first to be targeted, Gen Harel added.

Walking in silence

As night fell, columns of armed soldiers and police officers entered Neve Dekalim, the scene of ugly protests earlier in the day, where Jews could be heard calling fellow Jews "Nazis".

The troops walked in silence, maps in hand, ignoring the shouts and screams of teenage settlers who followed them, the BBC's James Reynolds observed.

Many of the thousands of settlers who ignored eviction notices served to them on Monday stood at the roadside and watched - some sobbing on what may be their last night in Gaza.

"It is like a dream has been destroyed," said 50-year-old Yael Yarim. "My heart has been broken."

The more defiant - along with supporters from Israel and the West Bank who have managed to slip into Gaza in recent days despite being officially barred - were said to have barricaded themselves in synagogues in a final stand.

The settlements of Dugit, Peat Sadeh and Rafiah Yam are now empty, and several others are thinning out, the Associated Press reported.

Settlers in some farming communities were seen burning their greenhouses and homes rather than leave them to the Palestinians. One man took a sledge hammer to the walls of his home.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Deadline for Gaza pullout expires

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