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Israel Evacuates Last Gaza Settlement in Gaza Strip


Israeli forces have begun evacuating Netzarim, the last settlement in the Gaza Strip.

As a small group of settlers sang a tearful goodbye Monday morning, Israeli soldiers and police moved into Netzarim, a religious farming community of some 500 and the last of the 21 settlements in Gaza to be evacuated. Unlike earlier evacuations where Israeli troops had to remove burning barricades, they met little resistance.

The secretary (community leader) of the town, Eliahu Uzan, told Israeli TV his community had come to terms with the evacuation. He said there had never been and would never be violence in Netzarim.

Israeli officials had estimated it would take three weeks to complete the evacuation but the operation, which began last Wednesday, went much faster than anticipated.

Army bulldozers began destroying houses Sunday in settlements already evacuated. Troops say they will leave the territory after several weeks of demolition work.

Israeli forces are to begin removing settlers from the last two small settlements in the northern West Bank later this week. There were clashes Sunday between troops and protesters vowing to resist the evacuation of Sanur and Homesh.

Speaking on Sunday to the troops who have carried out the disengagement, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon acknowledged that the emotional strain of the disengagement has been hard on Israelis, himself included.

This is not the destruction of Zionism, he says, it is not the destruction of the settlements either, adding that Israel must make sure there is a place for settlers in the future.

On Monday the Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted the prime minister as saying there will be building in the settlement blocs, referring to the two largest settlements in the West Bank - Maaleh Adumim, which is just east of Jerusalem and Ariel, which is not far from Tel Aviv.

The Israeli disengagement has renewed hope among Palestinians and some in the international community that peace talks might resume. But Mr. Sharon says that will only happen when Palestinian violence against Israel ends.

In his remarks Sunday, Mr. Sharon said there would be no more unilateral withdrawals but rather a return to the internationally backed road map peace plan, if his conditions are met.

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