- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

GADID, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops pushed through burning barricades and dragged screaming protesters from a settlement synagogue yesterday in an assault on one of the last pockets of resistance to evacuation from the Gaza Strip.

Diehard Jewish settlers took to rooftops in the tiny Gadid enclave shouting “Nazis” as security forces swept in and cleared another of Gaza’s main anti-pullout strongholds to break the back of opposition to ending 38 years of occupation.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, addressing a cheering crowd in the southern Gaza Strip, called the first evacuation of settlements from land Palestinians want for a state a time of “great joy.”

“This pullout was the result of the sacrifices, patience and wisdom of our people,” he said. “The more important step after the withdrawal will be how we protect, rebuild … and administer this land so we can set an example for the world.”

More than 80 percent of Gaza’s 8,500 Israeli settlers have been evacuated under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan,” and officials said they were far ahead of schedule since beginning forcible removals on Wednesday.

Buoyed by the latest poll confirming solid support in Israel for the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of the 120 in the West Bank, Israeli authorities formally declared Gadid empty before the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown.

The army suspended settlement operations for the Jewish day of rest, which ends this evening.

Palestinians welcome the removal of the Gaza settlers and another 500 from the West Bank, but fear Israel aims to keep most of the other settlements housing 230,000 settlers forever.

In what has become a familiar scene this week, unarmed riot troops marched past flaming cars and surrounded Gadid’s synagogue before forcing their way in and removing some 90 protesters.

Some young people prayed. Others cried or shouted abuse.

“This is a desecration of everything that is sacred to Jews,” said Boaz Puterel, 30, echoing the belief of ultranationalist Israelis that the Gaza Strip is part of God’s gift to the Jewish people and should never be relinquished.

Eight of those removed from Gadid escaped from a bus taking them to Israel and fled into the Israeli-controlled Palestinian enclave of al-Muwasi in the Gaza Strip, an army spokeswoman said. Israeli soldiers gave chase and caught them.

With 17 Gaza enclaves clear of settlers, troops plan to begin evacuating two small West Bank settlements on Tuesday, a security source said. That would complete removal of all 9,000 settlers under Mr. Sharon’s plan.

But Sanur and Homesh, built on territory where many religious Jews feel an even closer biblical bond than in Gaza, are seen as potential flash points. Two other mostly secular enclaves in the northern West Bank have already emptied out voluntarily.

On Thursday, troops seized control of synagogues in Neve Dekalim, the biggest Gaza settlement, and in Kfar Darom, the scene of frenzied clashes.

The army said it had begun digging trenches around evacuated settlements in Gaza to prevent Palestinians celebrating the pullout from entering the enclaves, where settler homes are to be demolished under a deal with the Palestinian Authority.

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