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Evictions Begin in Gaza

A historic withdrawal is underway in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Thousands of Israel troops marched into Jewish settlements in Gaza Monday, bringing an official end to 38 years of Israeli occupation of land it seized in the 1967 Middle East War. But many Jewish settlers are keeping their promise to defy the evacuation orders.

At the stroke of midnight, a barrier with a large red "Stop" sign in Hebrew and English was lowered at the Kissufim Crossing, making it illegal for Israelis to enter the Gaza Strip. A short time later, Israeli tanks entered and soldiers issued eviction notices at 21 Jewish settlements, giving settlers 48 hours to vacate their homes.

Starting Wednesday, 55,000 Israeli troops will forcibly evacuate anyone who remains.

At daybreak, settlers intent on staying gathered near the gate to pray for an end to the withdrawal. Some scuffled with Israeli security officers and others in the Neve Dekalim settlement burned tires and formed human chains.

Protestors burned their eviction notices, but others seemed to accept their fate, including one man who calmly greeted the Israeli security officer who entered his home.

However, many departing settlers are defacing their homes, in a final symbolic gesture toward Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon - who ordered the pullout. Mister Sharon proposed the withdrawal last year, saying the price in Israeli lives and money of protecting 8500 settlers, surrounded by a million Palestinians, was too great.

Some Israelis believe they have a God-given and historic right to the Gaza area.

Monday, the Israeli Cabinet gave formal approval to the pullout, in the second of four scheduled votes. Israel expects to complete the pullout of the 21 Gaza settlements, and four enclaves in the West Bank, by October.