- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

JERUSALEM — Powerful explosions ripped apart headquarters and sent water and communication towers crashing to the ground yesterday as Israel destroyed the last of its military facilities in the Gaza Strip and prepared to hand over the territory to the Palestinians early next week.

The demolitions came as Palestinians buried a former top security chief and relative of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Moussa Arafat’s assassination Wednesday underscored the chaos plaguing Gaza just days before the Palestinian Authority is to take control.

The destruction of the military installations erased from the Gaza landscape most of the remaining symbols of Israel’s 38-year occupation of the coastal strip, where 8,500 Jewish settlers lived among nearly 1.4 million Palestinians until Israel cleared out all 21 Jewish settlements two weeks ago.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he expects all Israeli soldiers out of Gaza by Monday — or Tuesday at the latest if the Israeli Cabinet decides that troops should raze more than two dozen synagogues still standing in the otherwise demolished Jewish settlements. The alternative is to leave them intact, with the expectation the Palestinians will preserve the buildings.

The head of Israel’s forces in Gaza, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is to be the last soldier to leave the coastal strip and will lock the gate of the Kissufim border crossing in a small ceremony.

The assassination of Moussa Arafat in Gaza City by dozens of gunmen underscored the weakness of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the unchecked power of armed gangs as his government prepares to take control of the coastal strip.

A military funeral was held for Mr. Arafat in Gaza City yesterday, but in a worrisome sign of the rampant chaos in Gaza, Mr. Abbas canceled his plans to deliver a eulogy after dozens of gunmen loyal to Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority fired thousands of bullets in the air outside his office during the funeral procession.

Meanwhile, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, said Washington expects Israel to dismantle more than 100 unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts, in line with its obligations under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan.

“We still expect as a country that Israel is going to fulfill its commitment,” Mr. Kurtzer told Israel Radio. “We have no reason to believe that Israel will try to evade its responsibility.”

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Israel has set aside plans to press Washington for $2 billion to help finance the Gaza withdrawal because of the enormous damage from Hurricane Katrina.

A high-level Israeli delegation that was to discuss the aid request with U.S. officials has postponed a trip to Washington, said ministry spokesman Mark Regev. “The issue [of U.S. aid] is not on the table at the moment,” Mr. Regev said. “Everyone’s dealing with Katrina.”

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