- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces broke into synagogues in two Gaza settlements yesterday, forcibly evicting hundreds of hard-line youths in tumultuous scenes that appeared to break the back of resistance to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan.

By day’s end, authorities reported that they had succeeded in clearing all residents from Neve Dekalim, the largest Gaza settlement, and 16 others, leaving only four still to be emptied.

The fiercest resistance yesterday came in Kfar Darom, where angry settlers sealed themselves inside a synagogue and took to its rooftop, which they surrounded with barbed wire.

“We won’t forget. We won’t forgive,” said a sign on the roof.

Dozens of injuries were reported as the settlers poured buckets of earth and a blue-green liquid described as acid ontp soldiers climbing ladders up the side of the building. Several soldiers ripped their clothes off to remove the stinging liquid and had to be doused with buckets of water by colleagues.

Eventually, the soldiers lowered a huge cagelike container onto the roof from a crane and forced the protesters inside, then lowered the cage and herded the occupants onto buses.

The resistance was intense but much less violent in Neve Dekalim, where nearly 5,000 soldiers and police were deployed to deal with about 1,500 resisters, most of them West Bank settlers who came to the Gaza Strip in recent weeks. The settlers had separated themselves, in two chapels, with women in one and men in the other.

Wrapped in ritual prayer shawls and sitting on the floor with linked arms, the red-faced demonstrators hurled insults and wailed prayers of penitence as brawny policemen struggled to shake them free. The demonstrators were carried out one at a time by teams of four officers who grabbed their arms and legs.

“If we leave, they are going to blow [the synagogue] it up,” said Shaul Goldstein, the mayor of the Gush Etzion settlement block in the West Bank. “We are trying to save something that is ours.”

Israel television compared the scenes from the evacuation of Kfar Darom to the Israeli withdrawals from Yamit, a Sinai Peninsula settlement, which traumatized Israelis in 1982 but cleared the way for two decades of peace with Egypt.

Israeli authorities appeared pleased with the progress of the action, which has succeeded in clearing the most militant holdouts without loss of life. However, one Israeli remains in jail after fatally shooting four Palestinians in the West Bank on Tuesday, apparently out of anger over the pullout. And an Israeli woman is in a hospital with life-threatening injuries after setting herself afire on Tuesday.

In Crawford, Texas, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush was “getting frequent and regular updates from his staff on the developments” in Gaza.

“The president continues to support Prime Minister Sharon and what he has called a very bold initiative,” she said. “It’s very courageous. We understand the deep sentiments that are felt and the difficulty one feels when leaving … their home.”

Minutes before the arrival of the police in the Neve Dekalim, the holdouts gathered for a final moment of prayer, a cathartic chorus of song in which they beat their chests and paraded with Torah scrolls.

When the doors of the synagogue slowly swung open, police officers looked surprised at the sight of dozens of youths sitting on the floor bracing themselves to resist the evacuation.

The chapel immediately erupted into pandemonium, with police and resisters engaging in a tug of war over piles of writhing bodies in the steam-bath heat.

“I won’t leave this place,” yelled one holdout as he kicked his legs to fend off police.

But settler leaders and rabbis took up positions between the police and their followers to make sure the young demonstrators didn’t get out of control. When empty water bottles were thrown at policemen, settler leaders immediately scolded those responsible.

Some holdouts walked out of the chapel, but most were carried out in anguish while yelling at the soldiers, “You are a partner to a crime.”

A line of passenger buses awaited the evacuees, some of whom had to be hoisted onto the vehicles. Suddenly, a soldier participating in the evacuation ran up to a bus and shook the hand of an orange-clad youth who had just been forcibly removed.

Ido Dekel, 20, an officer in training, later explained that he had been up all night worrying about his brother, Itai Dekel, who had been among those holed up in the synagogue. He said the two had argued about their opposing roles, but the disagreement had dissolved.

“Ultimately, we have to come home and be brothers. There is a tomorrow.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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