Crowds of cheering, flag-waving Palestinians are celebrating as Palestinian security forces take control of Gaza Strip settlements abandoned by Israel.

Israel began the final pullout of troops early Monday morning local time, and the army said it expected the last of its forces to return to Israeli soil by dawn.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called the end of the Israeli presence in Gaza "a day of joy."

In a sunset ceremony on Sunday, Israeli troops lowered their flag at the settlement of Neveh Dekalim. General Dan Harel said the handover was a new beginning and an opportunity for a better future for both peoples.

An unexpected complication to the handover arose Sunday when Israel's cabinet reversed a previous decision by voting not to tear down 19 synagogues before handing over the territory. The decision prompted the Palestinians to boycott a handover ceremony.

The Palestinian Authority is concerned about international criticism if it demolishes the synagogues, but says it will tear them down Monday.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP, Reuters.