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Palestinians Rush Into Abandoned Gaza Settlements

Thousands of jubilant Palestinians rushed into abandoned Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, Monday, as the last Israeli soldiers pulled out.

Throughout the night Israeli troop convoys were on the move and, just after sunrise, Brigadier General Avi Kochavi became the last Israeli soldier to leave Gaza - ending a 38-year Israeli presence in the coastal strip.

And, as the Israelis were leaving, Palestinians began rushing in.

Thousands of jubilant Palestinians flooded into the now abandoned settlements - shouting, waving flags and dancing with joy. But, there was also chaos and looting and some youths set fire to Jewish synagogues, which had been left behind intact. Palestinian journalist Khalil Assali was on the scene in the former settlement of Netzarim and told VOA what he saw.

"In Netzarim, there was a synagogue and we saw a lot of Palestinians who entered that synagogue and started burning [it]," he said. "There are some places that people told me that Palestinian youths started destroying the synagogues, but the Palestinian forces don't allow any journalists close to those places because it is very sensitive."

"About looting - yes, we saw a lot of looting and there were kids and people just collecting anything, like bullets leftover, like stones, like anything."

Mr. Assali said roads throughout Gaza were blocked with people and traffic as Palestinians made their way to the abandoned settlements. "It's still the best show in town is to go to the settlements and try to destroy as much as you can in these settlements because it's a symbol of hatred and a symbol of humiliation," he said.

Despite the fact that it was not a very smooth handover, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a day of joy and happiness. He says it is joyous that the long Israeli rule in Gaza, which he denounces as full of injustice, humiliation and killing, has come to an end. But, he also says that Palestinians still have a long way to go to achieve statehood.