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Palestinians Snub Gaza Handover


Israel declared Sunday that its military occupation of the Gaza Strip is over after 38 years, but Palestinian officials refused to attend a formal ceremony marking the change.

The Israeli Cabinet voted unanimously to complete the withdrawal of all troops from Gaza on Monday and turn the territory over to Palestinian control.

Israel has had control of the Gaza territory, a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean coast, since the 1967 Middle East war.

A Cabinet statement says government ministers approved the removal of all Israeli forces from the southernmost point in Gaza, bordering Egypt, a scene of frequent clashes in the past. Egyptian troops are ready to take up positions at the border to deter arms smuggling and illegal border crossing.

The Israeli Cabinet also voted to abandon more than 20 synagogues still standing in Gaza, instead of keeping troops in the territory for an additional day to dismantle the houses of worship. The vote on the synagogues was not unanimous - passing by a 14-2 margin, with one abstention.

Israel's original plan had been to raze the synagogues before leaving the territory. Palestinian leaders say they will not be able to protect the buildings, which are seen by many as a symbol of Israeli occupation.

Israel was planning to formally turn over Gaza to Palestinian leaders at a formal ceremony today, but the ceremony was canceled at the last minute when it became clear the Palestinians intended to boycott the handover.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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