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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Israel evicts Gaza Strip settlers
Settlers being taken away from Neve Dekalim

Israeli police and troops have evicted hundreds of Jewish settlers who were refusing to leave the Gaza Strip.

Many sobbed or shouted defiance as they were taken from their homes, schools and synagogues and hauled onto buses.

There was no serious violence in Gaza on Wednesday - the first day of forcible removals. The military says the operation could be over within days.

But in the northern West Bank, a settler killed four Palestinians and several others in a shooting incident.

The settler seized a gun from a security guard in the industrial zone of Shiloh settlement and fired into a group of Palestinians.

The gunman has been arrested. There is no word on his motive.

Click below to see a detailed map of the Israeli disengagement plan

Both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have condemned the shooting and appealed for calm.

In the Gaza Strip, officials said the operation to dismantle all 21 settlements could take six days - far quicker than the original estimate of six weeks.

In Neve Dekalim - the largest settlement in the Gaza Strip - thousands of police went from house to house to persuade the remaining settlers to leave.

Some boarded buses voluntarily and a few were carried off.

One woman was dragged away by female soldiers shouting: "I don't want to, I don't want to."

Barricaded

The BBC's Richard Miron in Neve Dekalim says the sights and sounds of protest were everywhere as smoke from burning rubbish hangs over the synagogue.

Similar scenes have been replicated elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

Settler jumps over burning barricade in Neve Dekalim
Some protesters set up burning barricades to stop troops
By late on Wednesday evening, eight of Gaza's 21 settlements - Tel Katifa, Bedolah, Peat Sadeh, Kerem Atzmona, Nissanit, Dugit, Morag, and Slav - had been entirely vacated.

Troops are preparing to storm the gates of the Shirat Hayam settlement, where hardliners have barricaded themselves in.

About half of Gaza's 8,500 settlers had refused to leave by the deadline.

Those being expelled also include 5,000 hardliners from Israel and West Bank who had joined them.

The pullout marks the first removal of settlements from Palestinian areas.

Palestinian reaction

Earlier Prime Minister Ariel Sharon praised the troops for showing "great sensitivity" in the operation.

Attack me - I am responsible for this
Ariel Sharon

He said he had been moved to tears at the sight of settlers being taken from their homes, but warned them not to vent their anger on the troops.

"I want to appeal to everyone not to attack the police and ... soldiers and not to blame them or make things difficult for them," Mr Sharon said in a televised address.

"Attack me. I am responsible for this. Attack me. Blame me."

Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been celebrating the withdrawal.

Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Kidwa welcomed the move - although he said the occupation would remain in legal terms, as Israel still controls Gaza's territorial waters and airspace.

"But this is a reversal of the colonisation of part of the Palestinian land, and it could lead to a different situation," he told the BBC.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev expressed hope that the two sides could "move forward in a process of peaceful reconciliation".


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