- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces will begin Monday to evict thousands of nonresidents who have slipped past army roadblocks into Gaza settlements ahead of this month’s planned withdrawal, according to a letter circulated to settlers yesterday.

The settlers have been promised assistance if they leave early, but were warned that anyone still in his home Monday would be ordered to vacate within 48 hours.

Mixed-sex teams of unarmed soldiers will return Wednesday to remove any settlers who remain, breaking down doors if necessary, said the letter from Southern Command chief Gen. Dan Harel. About 50,000 police and soldiers have been assigned to the operation.

Plans for the evacuation are complicated by the nonresidents, who have used fake identification, hidden in the trunks of cars or made their way over back roads to reach the settlements since the army began limiting access to the enclaves a month ago.

At least 2,000 Israelis have found their way into the Gush Katif settlement alone, an army spokeswoman acknowledged; settler spokesmen think the number is twice that high. Many have come with young children.

“The army doesn’t like this mission, and it’s looking for a way down from the tree,” said Meir Dana, a spokesman for Kfar Darom, an isolated enclave that has set up a tent city to host hundreds of unauthorized guests.

Opponents of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pullout plan hope the influx will overwhelm security forces and slow the evacuation of 8,500 Gaza Strip and West Bank settlers. Some expect physical clashes, which they hope will spur a public outcry against the withdrawal.

“The army can’t deal with a mass of people including children and disabled terror victims,” Mr. Dana said. “It can’t stop this peacefully without using violence.”

To reach the settlements, the unauthorized visitors have had to sneak past four layers of roadblocks manned by mixed detachments of police and soldiers equipped with computerized resident lists.

But army officials concede that settlers have occasionally been allowed to enter with large family groups or relatives from outside the settlements.

“This isn’t the enemy that we’re stopping. It’s been difficult to stop,” said Capt. Yael Hartman, a spokeswoman for the Israeli defense forces. “There are areas where people can get through, just like Palestinian infiltrators are able to get through without people catching them.”

Both the army and settlers say many more would-be infiltrators have been turned away. Capt. Hartman said the infiltrations have been reduced in recent weeks to a “manageable” level and insisted that there are enough security forces to handle the evacuation.

The new arrivals in Gaza range from large families living in tent cities to itinerant teenagers and young people willing to stay wherever they can find lodgings. Most are religiously committed and live in settlements in the West Bank.

An umbrella organization of Gaza settlements directs the newcomers to communities where there is still open space to sleep.

At Kfar Darom, near the Palestinian city of Deir el Balakh, the outsiders have been offered lodging in empty rooms, but most are living in a collection of green army tents, which resembles a refugee camp.

Rachel Golan said she had brought her 10 children with her to the tent city.

“It was very hard to leave our house in Jerusalem,” she said, adding, “Ideologically, it was clear what we should do.”

At Neve Dekalim, the largest Gaza settlement, the newcomers are being housed in a school for girls and a religious seminary and can be seen hitching rides throughout the small town. In the neighboring town of Gan Or, services at the normally half-empty synagogue are packed because of the guests.

Sara Snir, a veteran resident who doubts whether the visitors’ presence will stop the evacuation, said the newcomers were “strengthening themselves by doing something for the land of Israel.”

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