Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has appealed to Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip and their supporters to cooperate with the security forces sent to evacuate them. He spoke as troops have begun to remove settlers who had refused to voluntarily leave their homes.
In remarks carried live on Israeli TV, Mr. Sharon said images of settlers being removed from their homes was heart-breaking - something that he found impossible to watch without tears in his eyes.
He praised the restraint shown by the soldiers and urged the settlers to, as he put it, "criticize me, blame me, not the men and women in uniform."
He appealed to settlers to refrain from physical and verbal confrontation with the security forces. "I believe with all these difficulties, Israel will come out stronger," he said.
Mr. Sharon spoke as soldiers and police moved in to settlements across Gaza where they faced the cries and pleas of settlers and, at times, verbal and physical attacks from protesters as they began the evacuation.