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Israel Declares End to Occupation of Gaza

Israel has declared an end to its 38-year occupation of Gaza. But the final phase of the Gaza pullout was marred by a border dispute with the Palestinians.

Israel's Cabinet voted to end military rule in Gaza, clearing the way for the last Israeli troops to withdraw from the territory on Monday. Gaza will be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in what is seen as a test case for Palestinian statehood.

"The ball is now in the Palestinian court,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. “The Palestinian leadership must end its coexistence with the terror organizations, in order to advance the political dialogue between us."

But a dispute over border security overshadowed the historic pullout. The Palestinians boycotted an Israeli military ceremony to mark the handover of Gaza, after Israel shut down the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi says, if Israel controls the borders, the occupation is still intact.

" specifically designed in order to besiege Gaza, in order to create a collective prison there," she said.

Further complicating matters, Israel's Cabinet decided not to demolish the 25 synagogues in abandoned Gaza settlements, despite fears that they will be looted by Palestinian mobs. The Cabinet responded to appeals from top rabbis, who said it is better for Palestinians to desecrate the synagogues than for Jews to destroy them.

This poses a dilemma to the Palestinian Authority. It says it cannot protect the synagogues, because Palestinians see them as symbols of occupation. But Palestinian officials fear international condemnation, if synagogues are desecrated.