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Israel Evacuates Most Gaza Settlers, Many Kicking and Screaming

Israeli police and soldiers evacuated thousands of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip this week as part of Israel's disengagement from the Palestinian area. By Friday, most of the Gaza settlements had been evacuated.

It was a week of tension and emotion as settlers pleaded, cried and screamed and soldiers, at times, broke down in tears hugging those they had come to evict from their homes.

Monday and Tuesday settlers were given a grace period to leave voluntarily. Then on Wednesday morning, unarmed police and soldiers began to march into the settlements to drag and carry out those who had refused to go.

Many resisted. Several held up their children in front of the soldiers to shame them, others taunted them and called them Nazis. Still, one by one, settler families were carried out, often kicking and screaming. One by one the settlements were being emptied.

The toughest resistance came Thursday as police moved against some of the most hard-line enclaves, including Kfar Darom and Neve Dekalim. Here they faced not just defiant settlers, but also religious and nationalist activists who had come to Gaza to try to stop the withdrawal. The outsiders have been mostly young zealots, and it was they who holed up inside the synagogues.

In Neve Dekalim, police teams were met with chants of "Jews don't evict Jews," as they entered the synagogue prayer hall and then struggled to grab hold of protestors to take them out.

But, it was in Kfar Darom that the worst violence broke out. Here police brought in water cannons to try to roust the die-hard protesters from the synagogue roof. Police were pelted with eggs, paint and acid as they scaled the walls of the building. Dozens of soldiers, police and civilians sustained injuries during Thursday's operations, but in the end the protesters were removed.

Avi Abelow, a young settler in Netzar Hazani, is also in the army reserves. He told VOA there was no doubt that the tens of thousands of well trained soldiers and police would succeed in removing the settlers. Still, he was among those determined to resist through civil disobedience. "At least I know that my children and my grandchildren will know that [in] this horrible, immoral plan, their father [and] grandfather did his utmost to make sure it didn't happen," he said.

In the end, it did happen. By Friday most of the Gaza settlements were empty and troops had begun demolishing homes in the tiny outpost of Kerem Atzmona.

Military spokeswoman, Captain Yael Hartman told VOA progress has been good. "It's gone much more quickly than we anticipated and we're glad of that," she said. "We're hoping to do this as quickly as possible, because it is a very painful operation."

Operations were suspended Friday for the Jewish Sabbath but are due to resume Sunday, with several more settlements to be evacuated, including the isolated and hard-line enclave of Netzarim.

After that, troops will move on to evacuate four tiny settlements in the northern West Bank.

In all, around 9,000 settlers are to be evacuated from the 21 Gaza and four West Bank settlements under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Mr. Sharon proposed the withdrawal last year, saying the cost to protect the settlements - both in money and Israeli lives - was too high. Palestinian militants say it was the constant pressure from their attacks on the Israelis that prompted Mr. Sharon's decision.