Gaza settlers undergo forced eviction
Hundreds of Israeli troops, escorted by bulldozers, marched in formation in the largest settlement in Gaza.india Updated: Feb 09, 2006 19:46 IST
Hundreds of Israeli troops, escorted by bulldozers, marched in formation in the largest settlement in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in what the army said was the start of the forcible removal of residents.
The operation got underway in Neve Dekalim after the expiration at midnight 2300 GMT of an army deadline for Gaza's 8,500 settlers to leave of their own accord.
The Israeli pullout will mark the first removal of Jewish settlements from land Palestinians want for a state.
Unarmed 17-member evacuation squads made up of soldiers, police and paramilitary police have been training for the operation for weeks, practising scenarios that include violent resistance.
Confrontation loomed at Neve Dekalim, the biggest of the 21 Gaza settlements, where hundreds of ultra nationalist youngsters who slipped into the community of red-roofed homes over the past several weeks holed up in a synagogue for a possible last stand.
Government eviction notices, enshrined in law under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan, went into effect on August 15 but settlers were given a 48-hour grace period to leave or be removed.
Taking heed of the warning, many settlers packed up trucks ahead of the Wednesday deadline to quit the Gaza Strip and joined an exodus that Israel says will mark the end of its 38-year occupation of the narrow, coastal territory.
But the army estimated that about half the settler population would remain in defiance of a withdrawal, which opponents see as surrender to Palestinian violence.
A hard core of some 5,000 pullout opponents have reached Gaza settlements over the past several weeks despite a partial military closure of the area.
Palestinians welcome Israel's withdrawal from land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. However, they fear Sharon devised the plan as a ruse to cement Israel's hold on most of the West Bank, where 230,000 settlers and 2.4 million Palestinians live.