Israeli Army begins forced evacuation of Gaza settlements

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Israeli army has begun to forcibly remove settlers in Gaza Strip as the deadline for voluntary evacuation passed at 00:00, local time, this morning (21:00 UTC Tuesday).

The Gaza Strip

Soldiers entered the settlements of Neve Dekalim, Morag, Ganei Tal, and Bedolah in the early morning hours and have begun to carry settlers away. In Neve Dekalim over 1,000 settlers shut themselves inside the local synagogue while others did the same in their houses. In Morag a bulldozer was needed to break through a barricade constructed of trash containers. A soldier there was lightly wounded when a protester stabbed her in the arm with a needle. Prime minister Ariel Sharon responded to the incident by saying "don't hurt them, hurt me". In Southern Israel a woman is in critical condition after she set herself on fire in protest over the evacuations.

The army claims more than half of the 8,500 settlers in the Strip have already left. However, those remaining vowed to stay as long as they can, telling the soldiers that they "should be ashamed at what [they] are doing".

A thin majority in the Israeli government believe the pullout from Gaza is vital for the security of the country. "I look with hope to the future, that the price we are paying [...] will in the end bring about a positive change in Israel's situation," said Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The Palestinian Authority welcomes the withdrawal from Gaza but believes it can only be a first step in the process of giving up all Israeli settlements, including in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, an Israeli settler from Shiloh, in the West Bank, killed four Palestinians and wounded another two when he opened fire in an industrial area of the settlement. The 38-year old reportedly stole the gun used in the shooting from a security guard. He was arrested. Hamas has vowed to avenge the killings.

Gaza Strip pullout under way