Israel begins to pull out from Gaza
* Settlers form human chains to block soldiers with eviction notices as the Jewish state implements an end to its 38-year-old occupation
NEVE DEKALIM: Israel began its historic operation Monday to pull out of the Gaza Strip after 38 years of occupation, meeting anger and defiance from settlers being uprooted from their homes.
Thousands of Israeli police and soldiers poured into Gaza to inform Jewish settlers they had 48 hours to leave or be forcibly evicted after their continued presence was declared illegal at the stroke of midnight. “This is breaking our hearts but it is vital for the future of the democratic state of Israel,” Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the hawkish former general who is presiding over the first ever Israeli pullout from occupied Palestinian territory, was due to address a nation of people who appear divided as never before by his disengagement plan. But even before the pullout began in earnest, hopes that it could lead to a real breakthrough in the peace process were dashed as Palestinians denounced a pledge by Mofaz that Israel would keep hold of its West Bank settlement blocs.
Sharon’s cabinet also Monday gave its final approval for the evacuation of the main Gush Katif settlement bloc, home to 15 of the 21 Jewish communities that have sprung up in Gaza since its 1967 capture by Israel.
“In accordance with the implementation of the disengagement plan 2005 law and following the decision of the Israeli government, you are required to leave your home and the Gaza Strip today, Monday 15/08/05,” said southern regional commander General Dan Harel in letters delivered to the settlers by police and soldiers.
The officers had to temporarily abandon efforts to deliver the eviction notices at the largest of the settlements, Neve Dekalim, after a hundreds of people blocked their entrance chanting “Soldier, policeman - refuse the orders.”
But they then sneaked around to the back, where they began delivering the notices door-to-door.
Defiant and tearful Jewish settlers locked the gates to their communities, formed human chains and burned tires to block troops from delivering eviction notices.
Settler leaders have vowed to keep the campaign to thwart the pullout free of violence, but were unable to prevent youths smashing car windows and setting fire to mounds of tyres after the midnight order came into force.
“This is not what we planned but we cannot control these young people,” one of the main leaders of Yesha, Shaul Goldstein, told AFP. “This activity undermines our struggle.” The operation, the first time Israel has withdrawn from Palestinian land seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, could have a lasting impact on the Middle East conflict and reshape Israel’s political landscape.
Mofaz said the pullout from Gaza was an extremely painful process but stressed it was vital that laws passed in parliament be respected. “The state has decided and now it is the time to carry out that decision.” Army chief of staff General Dan Halutz briefed his top brass on Sunday that only 50 percent of the 8,000 settlers would leave their homes by Wednesday and acknowledged that the ranks of Gush Katif settlers had been boosted by up to 5,000 right-wing activists.
“I am not leaving here without a fight... If they kick me out I will go to the Shomron and do the same there,” said Levy Hertzl, an 18-year-old student from Brooklyn in New York. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the planet with a Palestinian population of 1.3 million, most of them living in abject poverty.
Around 7,500 members of the Palestinian security forces are deployed on the perimeter of the settlements in a bid to prevent any rocket attacks by militant groups such as Hamas who have portrayed the pullout as an act of surrender.
There was no sign of settlers leaving Gaza through Kissufim early Monday, according to an AFP correspondent at the checkpoint.
Meir Dahan, a long-time Neve Dekalim resident said he wanted to leave but the army had so far failed to provide him with removal containers as promised.
“I just want to get out and abide by the law,” said the bank manager. afp