Thursday, August 18, 2005
Israeli troops storm synagogues.
Israeli forces dragged hundreds of religious Jews from synagogues in the Gaza settlements yesterday as hardline opponents of Israel's withdrawal from the territory made a last stand.
Commandos backed by water cannon stormed the roof of Kfar Darom synagogue after a group of ultranationalists barricaded themselves behind barbed wire and pelted the security forces below with acid, paint and large water melons.
In the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim, it took an operation involving 5,000 troops and police to prise nearly 1,000 protesters, including hundreds of teenage girls, from two synagogues. Soldiers spent hours wrenching men from a woven network of bodies spread over the synagogue floor.
Despite the resistance, the emptying of the settlements has proceeded quicker than the army planned with most completely or largely cleared in just two days. The operation was scheduled to be completed by September 4 but Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, yesterday said that all 21 of the Gaza settlements could be evacuated by Monday.
Israel began the first demolitions of houses, in the emptied settlement of Kerem Atzmona, in preparation to hand over all occupied territory in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, probably next month.
The most violent confrontation yesterday was in Kfar Darom, one of the most defiant settlements. Riot police were lowered by container on to the synagogue roof while commandos climbed up ladders under the protection of water cannon to remove dozens of settlers who were the last holding outs.
About 300 other men had to be dragged from inside the synagogue. Officials said 44 soldiers and police were injured, and more than 100 people arrested.
Earlier, residents tried to delay their removal from their homes by sabotaging army bulldozers by cutting cables and pouring sugar in the fuel, and by setting fire to a bus. Some families, including children who were kicking and screaming, were dragged from their homes. When soldiers moved into the settlement's administration offices, they were pelted with paint.
Among those to leave without physical resistance were three children who lost legs or feet in a Palestinian bomb attack on their school bus. Their mother, Noga Cohen, pinned a notice on her front door as she awaited the police and troops.
"In the event you knock on the door, you are a direct partner in the most terrible crime in the history of the nation of Israel," it said.
A short distance away, beyond the army watchtowers, Palestinians stood on the roofs of their homes to cheer the evacuation.
In Neve Dekalim, all but a few of the 450 families that once lived in the settlement had been cleared out by the time the security forces took on the more militant young people holed up in two neighbouring synagogues.
The Israeli army had been preparing for the showdown for days. Many of the people inside the synagogues were young extremists in their teens or early twenties who illegally infiltrated Neve Dekalim to protest against the pullout.
They had threatened a campaign of sabotage during the withdrawal, and delayed the start with burning barricades and attacks on buses used to remove the settlers.
But the tactics failed, and the young people retreated into the synagogues - one used by women, mostly teenage girls who worked themselves into a frenzy singing prayers.
"Our God will never leave us and our country," they sang. The other was for men who prayed for hours as the police mobilised. Two orthodox Jews dressed in black wore orange Stars of David with the word "Jude", reminiscent of those the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Some of the youths painted the ramps into the synagogues with oil in an attempt to make it difficult for the troops to enter. But when the time came, the army overcame the obstacle by laying sand.
As the troops went in, a voice over the synagogue loudspeakers pleaded: "Soldiers don't do this. Don't go into the holy place. Don't evacuate the holy place."