Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Israeli Soldiers Clear Out Gaza Strip.
NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip - Jewish settlers sobbed and screamed, some of them ripping their shirts in mourning, as Israeli troops dragged them from homes and synagogues Wednesday — the beginning of the end of Israel's 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, a settler killed four Palestinian laborers in a shooting rampage, which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced as a twisted act of "Jewish terror" designed to stop the historic pullout.
Despite the escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, the eviction of die-hard settlers and their nationalist supporters who flooded into Gaza in recent weeks moved forward — with anguish, anger and tears, but more swiftly and smoothly than anyone anticipated.
A convoy left before dawn Thursday, beginning the second day of the forcible evacuation. Army Radio reported that a large force was poised outside Kfar Darom, an extremist center.
Sharon proposed his "disengagement plan" two years ago to ease Israel's security burden and help preserve the country's Jewish character by placing Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians outside Israeli boundaries. Under the plan, Israel will remove all 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank — the first time it has removed veteran settlements from either area.
Some 14,000 unarmed Israeli soldiers and police entered six settlements throughout Wednesday, forcibly evicting residents who refused to leave voluntarily. According to the army, 1,842 people were evacuated Wednesday. Of 1,600 families in Gaza, only 600 remained by the end of the day.
Soldiers and settlers clashed, argued and hugged, reflecting intense and mixed emotions at the uprooting of settlers whose government years ago encouraged them to move to Gaza for the sake of Israel's security.
"It's impossible to watch this ... without tears in the eyes," Sharon said, but he insisted the pullout would make Israel safer.