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Israeli Pullout Under Way in Some Gaza Settlements

Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip officially begins Monday, when police and soldiers will go from house to house in settlements slated for dismantling, telling residents they have 48 hours to leave their homes or face forced evacuation by Wednesday. But, disengagement is already well under way in some of the settlements.

Nissanit already has the feel of a ghost town. Many of its houses are empty. In some all that remains are bits of broken glass, pottery shards and a few children's toys strewn across the floor.

Outside, untended gardens lie wilted and dying under the desert sun.

First established in 1984, Nissant was home to over 1,000 people. But, now this settlement, along with 20 others in the Gaza Strip and four small ones in the West Bank, are being dismantled as part of Ariel Sharon's plan to disengage from the Palestinians.

Carmit Altit and her husband moved to Nissanit four years ago. Sitting outside her small house, waiting for the moving van to arrive, she wonders about an uncertain future. She says it's so very hard.

"You see," she laughs, "all the years here and now to leave - all the memories and all the friends."

Mrs. Altit feels no strong religious or nationalistic ties to this land, yet she blames the country's leaders for having encouraged people to make their homes and businesses in Gaza. Now, she says, they tell us to give it all up and leave.

Roni and Limor Yifrah live across the street. They're loading up the family car as they too wait for the moving truck to come.

The family also looks to an uncertain future and worries about the financial burden of moving and starting a new life.

The Altit and Yifrah families are close friends and would like to move near each other when they leave Nissanit.

Though she worries more about the effects on her family than the politics of the withdrawal plan, Carmit Altit wonders what good will comes of the disengagement.

She says, if the withdrawal were to bring greater security, an end to terror attacks and peace - then it would all be worth it and she would gladly sacrifice everything.

A few streets away, another house is being emptied. The young man living here gives his name only as Josef. He's a lawyer who works in nearby Ashkelon, just north of Gaza, but says his family has lived here in Nissanit for the past 14 years. Josef worries the withdrawal will set a bad precedent.

"I think it will be a loss for generations," he says. "It will only encourage the terror and will not give Israel anything. What the decision [to pull out] says is that it [Gaza] was never ours. We steal this land and now we give back what we stole. This is a different concept from all the ideology of the Zionists and of Israel until now."

Many other Israelis share his view. They fear the withdrawal will be seen as a reward for Palestinian violence over the past five years and will result in even more attacks on settlements in the West Bank aimed at getting settlers there to leave too. They do not accept Ariel Sharon's argument that giving up Gaza and small portions of the West Bank is vital for Israel's security.

A few streets over, a young woman dressed in the conservative garb of a religious Jew, is picking up her young son from the local day care center.

She identifies herself only by her first name, Ayalet. She says everyone is going through a very hard time. It's tearing us apart, she says.

Ayalet says her family is not packing up and not planning to leave. She believes a "miracle" will happen to allow them to stay.

But most residents of Nissanit are not waiting for miracles. Many have already left the settlement and others are busy packing.

These settlements in the north of Gaza are considered the easy ones. To the south, in the Gush Katif settlement block, where the bulk of the over eight thousand Jewish settlers in Gaza lives, the evacuation is expected to be much more difficult. There, many settlers and their supporters have vowed to resist any attempts by the police and army to move them.