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Israeli Army Uses Gentle Force to Remove Gaza Protestors

Unarmed Israeli security forces moved into some of the hard-line settlements in the Gaza Strip Thursday, the second day of the forced evacuation of Jewish settlers from the territory.

Israeli forces stormed the synagogue in Gaza's largest settlement, Neve Dekalim, to remove hundreds of ultranationalist youngsters - many from outside the settlement. They had barricaded themselves inside the day before.

Soldiers finally entered the compound after hours of unsuccessful negotiations. Once inside, the soldiers were confronted by protesters who had locked their arms and legs on the floor.

It was a slow and emotional process as settlers were moved outside to waiting buses.

In the nearby settlement of Kfar Darom, hundreds of opponents of the withdrawal barricaded themselves behind rolls of barbed wire in the synagogue there. Security forces surrounded the synagogue and two other buildings. After negotiations to end the standoff failed, troops began moving into homes.

Israeli troops also began forcibly evicting people from the hardline Shirat Hayam settlement.

Israeli officials hope to finish the evacuation within days instead of weeks, as originally planned.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement plan" involves the removal of Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four enclaves in the West Bank. For 38 years, Israel has occupied Gaza -- where some 8500 Israeli settlers lived among 1.3 million Palestinians.

Mister Sharon proposed the withdrawal two years ago, to ease Israel's security burden.

But many opponents fear the withdrawal will encourage more Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls Mister Sharon "extremely courageous" for honoring the commitment to the withdrawal.

The Palestinian Authority and the Bush administration hope the withdrawal will stimulate the internationally-backed "road map" peace process, aimed at bringing about an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.