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Israeli Troops Train for Gaza Disengagement

Thousands of Israeli soldiers and police have begun exercises to train for removing Jewish settlers from Gaza. The training comes just three weeks before the dismantling of settlements is due to begin.

Some 5,000 soldiers and police have begun a two-week training exercise at the Tze'elim military base in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

A mock settlement has been set up where the troops can practice how to remove families from their homes. Additional training is expected to follow at other sites in the area.

Military officials say that 50,000 police and soldiers will take part in next month's operation to remove around nine thousand settlers and dismantle the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small ones in the northern West Bank. Most of the settlers are expected to go peacefully and voluntarily, but some have vowed to put up a fight.

Army Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz says he believes the number of those refusing to leave will be manageable.

General Halutz said there are many who oppose the disengagement, but also condemn any active refusal to obey its implementation. He said there is a fine line between opposition and outright refusal - adding, "we'll be able to continue to walk that line."

Troops are expected to be deployed in circles around the settlements - with unarmed soldiers and police in front - directly involved in removing families from their homes. The remainder of the troops will be armed and tasked with protecting the frontline from possible Palestinian militant attacks and securing access roads for the exit.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says the military is prepared to deal with any attacks.

"We will not allow terror or fire during the disengagement," he said. "We will deal with it in such a way to stop the fire and still allow the disengagement to take place."

The operation is scheduled to begin mid August and last about three weeks.

Disengagement opponents have vowed to continue protest demonstrations next week to tie up large numbers of security forces - an effort they hope will prevent the withdrawal.