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Forced Evacuations Begin in Gaza with Mix of Violence and Resignation

The Israeli Army has begun forcibly evicting Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, despite emotional outbursts from settlers who remain defiant to the end. The evictions came as a deadline for Israelis to leave Gaza expired. Wednesday's evacuations mark the end of Israel's occupation of land it seized 38 years ago.

For thousands of Israeli soldiers, the resistance was tough, but expected. Many settlers ordered to leave the only homes they have ever known did so only when forcibly dragged away, and onto waiting buses.

Throughout the settlements, there were various protests ranging from the confrontational, to the more passive. Many gathered on balconies and atop their homes -- soon to be demolished -- or in synagogues, to solemnly witness the final moments of the Israeli presence in Gaza.

In a televised address, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the images from the Gaza evacuations "heartbreaking." He urged settlers and other opponents of the withdrawal process not to attack police and soldiers, calling on them instead, in his words, to "attack me, blame me."

More than one million Palestinians live in Gaza, a strip of land on the Mediterranean coast of Israel approximately 40 kilometers long and 9.6 kilometers wide.

There have been numerous Palestinian attacks on the settlements -- home to some 8500 Israelis.

In 2003, Mister Sharon ordered the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank, saying the withdrawal would ease friction with the Palestinians. Opponents of the withdrawal, however, call the plan a surrender to Palestinian violence.

As part of the withdrawal plan, the Israeli government is compensating settlers in amounts ranging from $200,000 to $300,000 dollars per family. Israel expects to complete the pullouts in Gaza and the West Bank by October.