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Three years after being evacuated from settlements in the Gaza Strip, some of the evacuees are now returning - in uniform.

Aharon Cruz, a paratroops officer, lived in Netzarim for two years before the disengagement. On Sunday, he and his unit, to which he had been recalled a mere day after his wedding last Thursday, were back at the settlement's ruins in central Gaza.

"On one hand, there's a feeling of 'what did we leave for?'" said his father, Rabbi Ze'ev Cruz. "On the other hand, there's joy that he is returning to a place he knows."

The ground operation has aroused strong feelings among the evacuees. Some see it as a first step toward returning to their former homes. But most simply want to shout "we told you so!" And the feelings are intensified among those who have sons serving in Gaza.

"It's a very difficult feeling," said Ami Shaked, former chief security officer of the Gush Katif settlement bloc, whose son is a paratrooper. "This is the first war in which my son is defending me instead of me, him."

But beyond that, "everything we said then has come true. What is happening today reopens the wounds. The thought arises that perhaps we shouldn't have given in; perhaps we should have been more insistent, ratcheted up the struggle another notch. But that's history."

Yossi Neuman, a reserve officer in Southern Command who once lived in Neve Dekalim, was called up over a week ago. His son Itai, a tank commander, called him yesterday from the ruins of Netzarim.

"It's a destructive feeling," Neuman said. "I'm here on an emergency call-up and my son is fighting for what we once had. We said missiles would haunt Ashkelon and they said we were delusional. We lost our homes and our lives for nothing, for nothing at all in exchange. And in the end, we're returning to fight there."

For many evacuees, the feelings were heightened by the news that the son of Zvika Bar-Hai - a West Bank settler who was one of the leaders of the fight against disengagement - was seriously wounded on the first day of the ground operation.

But the army's return to Netzarim was particularly emotional for former residents of that settlement. "I got text messages that said 'stop everything, we'll soon be back,'" said one, Itzik Vazana. "We're hoping for the day when we return. I think we've come a long way from the expulsion until today. We've made a big circle, and in the end, we're returning to Netzarim. Tomorrow morning we won't return to the settlement, but it's a process that will ripen slowly."

"It's a stab in the heart," added another, Eliyahu Ozen. "Today it is clear that when I lived in Netzarim, I was the country's flak jacket. Today, I live with the feeling that I did my job. Too bad they didn't want it any more."