IDF: Demolition of settlement houses may start at end of next week
Pace faster than expected; already evacuated: Nissanit, Bedolah, Dugit, Pe'at Sadeh, Slav, Rafiah Yam, Kfar Yam, Gadid and Morag
The evacuation of the Gaza Strip is going forward faster than anticipated, such that all settlements could be vacant by early next week and the demolition of settler homes could begin a few days later, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday.
"The struggle against the evacuation has passed from the broad-based to the indivdual," Major General Yisrael Ziv, commander of the IDF's Operations Branch, said.
Nissanit, Bedolah, Dugit, Pe'at Sadeh, Slav, Rafiah Yam, Kfar Yam, Gadid and Morag were all evacuated by Wednesday evening. If the present pace continues, another three or four settlements could also be evacuated on Wednesday, Ziv said.
Of the three northern Gaza settlements, there are 15 (out of an original 74) families still in Elei Sinai, and Nissanit and Dugit have been totally evacuated, according to the Disengagement Administration. The IDF does not plan to exert much effort to complete the evacuation of Elei Sinai.
Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky said Wednesday that all Gaza Strip settlements could be evacuated by the beginning of next week.
According to Ziv, evacuations were proceeding at a faster rate than planners had anticipated. He said the IDF could begin to demolish vacant settler homes as early as the end of next week.
Evacuated settlers using Nazi imagery Irate residents of the Gaza settlement of Kerem Atzmona employed Nazi-era imagery - including yellow Stars of David on their T-shirts - to protest the pullout on Wednesday afternoon. As soldiers arrived, settlers shouted at them: "Nazi!" "Refuse orders!" and "Jews don't expel Jews."
According to Army Radio, Kerem Atzmona children were instructed by their parents to walk out to meet evacuating forces wearing yellow stars and holding their hands in the air. This was meant to evoke a famous Holocaust-era photograph of Jewish children being rounded up by Nazi soldiers.
IDF Spokeswoman Miri Regev condemned the settlers' cynical use of children.
In the neighboring settlement of Atzmona, agreement was reached at the end of lengthy negotiations between evacuating forces and settler leaders. Residents agreed to leave their homes this coming Sunday. Security forces had been prepared to storm the settlement and remove residents by force.
Woman soldier stabbed by protester Forced evacuations of settlers mounted in intensity throughout the Gaza Strip Wednesday, as a woman IDF soldier was stabbed and lightly wounded by a pullout opponent in the Gaza Strip settlement of Morag, and troops entered synagogues in Bedolah and Tel Katifa to oust disengagement opponents who had taken refuge there.
A woman who infiltrated Morag stabbed the soldier with the needle of an IV set near the settlement synagogue after arguing with her. She was arrested and brought in for questioning.
Speaking soon after the incident, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon beseeched settlers not to attack soldiers and police removing them from their homes, declaring that opponents of the disengagement plan should "not hurt them, rather hurt me."
"I want to truly appeal to everyone, not to attack the police, the women and men soldiers and police. Don't blame them. Don't make it hard on them. Don't hurt them, hurt me."
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with President Moshe Katsav, the prime minister, referring to his disengagement plan, said "I am responsible for this. Hurt me. Blame me. Don't hurt the soldiers and police who are in any case in a state of distress."
Katsav then interjected, saying that Sharon intended to say "Criticise me, not hurt me."
Later on Wednesday, IDF troops had evacuated Tel Katifa in its entirety.
Meanwhile, IDF officials were hammering out a deal with Neveh Dekalim settlement leaders regarding their evacuation. Police earlier arrested about 60 pullout opponents for clashing violently with security forces.
In Neveh Dekalim, the largest Gaza settlement, security forces encountered violent resistance from settlers and pullout opponents who had infiltrated the Gaza Strip.
Police arrested about 60 protesters, most of whom do not live in Gush Katif, and sent them out of Neveh Dekalim on buses.
Hundreds of troops grabbed settlers and pushed them into buses. Police scuffled with a large crowd, as the smoke from burning garbage rose into the air. Protesters fought with police officers and threw eggs and water bottles at them. One family pushed soldiers out of their home and began breaking down the house with a hammer.
One young woman shouted, "I don't want to, I don't want to," as she was carried out of a house in Neveh Dekalim.
However, students of the Torat Haim yeshiva in Neveh Dekalim, which had been expected to be a center of opposition to security forces, were packing when the troops arrived. About 210 of the 470 families in Neveh Dekalim had already left by midnight Tuesday.
The evacuation of Morag was completed by later afternoon. Security forces escorted the protesters, some wrapped in prayer shawls, to buses. The forces also evacuated families congregating in a day-care center in the settlement.
A Morag resident was arrested with flammable materials and protesters burned tires in the settlement, and other settlers screamed at soldiers to refuse evacuation orders.
Five buses of protesters evacuated from Morag Security forces were trying to convince several youths to get off the roof of the synagogue in Morag on Wednesday, after about 80 pullout opponents briefly barricaded themselves inside. The protesters backed down after speaking to police representatives, and agreed to leave peacefully and board buses out of the settlement.
The more than 15,000 police officers and soldiers deployed in Gush Katif also marched into the Gaza settlements of Ganei Tal, Bedolah and Tel Katifa to begin the forced evacuation.
Security forces also entered the settlement of Bedolah and made their way into the synagogue, where residents had barricaded themselves. By noon, all the residents except one woman had left on their own.
Ganei Tal residents were trying to convince security forces Wednesday not to implement the evacuation, but they have all agreed to leave the area on their own between 1 P.M. and 3 P.M. Wednesday.
Tel Katifa residents apparently reached an agreement with the army to leave the settlement in an orderly convoy, the army said.
The army is allowing those settlers who don't clash with the security forces to leave the settlements in their own cars.
PM aide: Settlements could be evacuated within 48 hours A senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said early Wednesday that all or nearly all of the 21 Gaza Strip settlements could be evacuated within 48 hours, declaring that the opposition to the disengagement has failed.
The IDF Southern Command and the Disengagement Administration said that more than half the settlers in Gaza - 832 families out of the 1,550 registered as residents - had left their homes by midnight Tuesday, the deadline after which the IDF has announced it will use force against those who refuse to leave.
Asked if pullout officials now believed the overall evacuation could be complete within two days, Eival Giladi, Prime Minister's Office chief of coordination and strategy, told Army Radio:
"It is a feasible assessment. It is not an an accessment that we have accepted as a formal accessment. I don't want to fix a certain time. Our approach is that there is time."
According to Giladi, apparently referring to prior predictions that resistance to evacuation would be accompanied by spasms of violence, "The greatest success of the leaders of the opposition is that the opposition has failed.
"In the future, I believe that the fact that the opposition reached a certain level and then flagged, will be seen as a success and not a failure."
Major IDF convoy heads for Gush Katif The first major IDF convoy dispatched to remove settlers who infiltrated Gaza crossed into the Strip early Wednesday morning, heading for Gush Katif.
The convoy was briefly held up by anti-pullout protesters blocking roads between the Re'im camp, where thousands of soldiers deployed for the disengagement are based, and the entrance to Gaza. More than 100 vehicles made up the long line, moving toward the main crossing point into the settlement bloc.
The convoy was stalled by about 50 anti-pullout protesters blocking roads. Police and soldiers cleared away the demonstrators, dragging them off the road.
Overnight, the IDF flooded Neveh Dekalim with thousands of troops after the midnight deadline for voluntary evacuations expired Tuesday night, hundreds of opponents of the disengagement barricaded themselves in the key settlement's central synagogue.
Most of the barricaded activists are teenagers who entered the Gush Katif settlement bloc illegally in recent weeks in a bid to thwart the evacuation.