Israeli troops begin second day of Gaza evacuation18/08/2005 - 07:36:51
Hundreds of Gaza pullout opponents barricaded themselves behind rolls of barbed wire in the synagogue of the hard-line Jewish settlement Kfar Darom today, as security forces surrounded the building on the second day of the forcible removal of settlers.
Young protesters stood on the roof of the synagogue, defiantly waving Israeli flags. Officers said they expected stiff opposition from the 2,000 people in the settlement.
Yesterday, the first day of forced evacuation, there had been relatively little violence. Sobbing settlers were dragged out of homes and synagogues in six settlements, but most did not put up a fight. In all, 11 of 21 Gaza settlements stood empty today.
In Kfar Darom, thousands of troops marched in at daybreak and quickly surrounded the synagogue and two nearby buildings where people were holed up. Lines of buses waited at the entrance of the settlement, prepared to take people away.
Noga Cohen, a Kfar Darom resident who had three children maimed in a Palestinian shooting attack on a bus, said Israel was surrendering to Palestinian militants.
On the door of her house was a sign. “In the event you knock on the door, you are a direct partner in the most terrible crime in the history of the nation of Israel.”
Young teenagers jeered the approaching troops, driving one female soldier to tears. “What are you doing? Are you crazy?” they shouted.
Major General Dan Harel, commander for the Gaza region, urged Kfar Darom’s residents to cooperate and said he said he hoped to finish the evacuation by tomorrow, ahead of the Jewish Sabbath.
“If there are understandings, that would be good. If there are not, we will move the people out anyway.”
But residents appeared to be digging in for a stand-off. Moti Cohen, who had come from Jerusalem to be with the settlers, said protesters have hoarded sand bags and cans of foam spray for the confrontation.
Cement barriers – normally used to protect the community from Palestinian fire - were spread across streets to impede the troops. A huge D-9 military bulldozer cleared the blocks away.
Uri Ariel, a hard-line politician who was in Kfar Darom, said that “there will be opposition, I would even say strong opposition”.
At dawn, hundreds of people crowded into the synagogue for morning prayers, and the forces were waiting for the service to end before removing people.
Youths anxiously watched the troops from the rooftop, which was decorated with posters that said ““For the Lord will not abandon His people or abandon His land,” and ”Kfar Darom will not fall again.”
The settlement was briefly populated by Jews before being driven out by Egyptian troops during Israel’s war of independence in 1948.
During the stand-off with troops, a group of Kfar Darom settlers walked to a group of nearby Palestinian houses, throwing stones and breaking some of the windows, said Mohammed Abu Samra, a resident of the area. Abu Samra said soldiers intervened and tried to stop the settlers.
The forced evacuations of Gaza’s settlers began yesterday after the expiration of a deadline for residents to leave. Israel says its 38-year occupation of Gaza, home to 1.3 million Palestinians, cannot be sustained.
While most troops focused on Kfar Darom today, they also returned to Neve Dekalim, the focus of evacuation operations on the first day. Military officials said they hoped to clear out Kfar Darom, Netzer Hazani and Shirat Hayam, a small hard-line outpost, today.
Officials also hoped to complete the evacuation of Neve Dekalim, Gaza’s largest settlement. Police said about 100 of 480 families remained in Neve Dekalim.
About 1,500 outside “reinforcements” – most of them extremist teenagers from the West Bank – remained holed up in the settlement’s synagogue.
Several thousand West Bank extremists have infiltrated Gaza’s settlements in recent weeks to bolster resistance.
The scenes during yesterday’s evictions were heart-rending. Orthodox Jews sobbed as they carried sacred Torah scrolls out of a synagogue.
Children dressed like Holocaust victims raised their hands in symbolic surrender as police led them to a waiting bus. A rabbi talked a despondent young man off a roof.
But the evictions went more smoothly and quickly than anyone anticipated. Feared violence did not materialise in Gaza, although a Jewish settler in the West Bank, apparently despondent over the withdrawal, opened fire at Palestinian workers, killing four.
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