Israeli troops remove protesters from Gaza synagogues

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Israeli soldiers are in the process of removing Jewish protesters from synagogues in Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip as part of an operation to force the evacuation of settlements.

The settlement of Neve Dekalim was founded in 1983 and was home to 500 Orthodox Jewish families. It also was occupied earlier before back in the 1940s, settled by a couple Jewish families who were able to hold off the Eygptian army.

Around 1,500 protesters inside the synagogue refused to leave despite warnings from the soldiers. Many protesters have been retaliating to the soldiers' commands, and have even started shoving and punching a few guards. The protesters have linked their arms in a chain to attempt to prevent themselves being removed. The protesters are mostly not Gaza settlers, but are extremist youths from the West Bank and Israel.

After several hours of unsuccessful negotiations unarmed security forces entered the complex to begin removing people to buses waiting outside. Those who did not go as instructed were usually escorted by two or three guards each to the buses. Meanwhile, all male protesters have been removed from the building while the female protesters are still inside the synagogue.

In another Gaza town, Kfar Darom, protesters are also making their last stand in a synagogue, and thousands of troops have surrounded the buildings. There, soldiers entered the synagogue as well and are dragging protesters out of the building. They were, however, hampered by protesters on the roof, who, among other things, threw caustic soda at the soldiers. Consequently, the rooftop was taken by security forces as well. Seventy seven people have been injured, two moderately on the roof of the synagogue. Police say that 120 demonstrators were arrested.

The evacuations are extremely stressful for protesters and soldiers alike. Having to evict fellow Jews is "traumatic" for the soldiers said IDF Capt. Yael Harman. He added in connections to the synagogues evacuations: "Many of our soldiers are religious, and it's very difficult for them to conceive of the idea of going into a religious building and trying to pull those people out [...] but this is what we must do."