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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Israel begins evicting settlers
Settler jumps over burning barricade in Neve Dekalim

Israeli soldiers have begun an operation to evict inhabitants from Gaza settlements after a deadline for them to leave expired.

Hundreds of troops escorted by bulldozers marched into Neve Dekalim settlement, a focus of resistance where thousands have defied orders to leave.

There have been several reports of protesters being carried away kicking and screaming onto buses.

But despite resistance troops have got on with their job, correspondents say.

Attack me - I am responsible for this
Ariel Sharon

The evacuation could be completed within days rather than weeks, Israeli officials said.

Some army units have been delayed by sporadic protests from mainly young protesters. There have been scuffles and a number of arrests.

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

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."

In other developments:

  • In southern Israel a woman is badly burned after setting herself on fire during a protest against the pull-out

  • A female soldier is lightly wounded after being stabbed by a protester in Morag, Haaretz newspaper reports

    55,000 army and police involved
    Divided into seven circles
    Circle 1 consists of 15,000 mostly army working on physical removal of settlers, split into teams of 17
    Each team assigned two houses a day
    Removal vans to go in when settlement is clear of people, followed by bulldozers

  • Residents of Elei Sinai in northern Gaza say they will stay put until the authorities find them housing in Israel where they can stay together as a community

  • Troops prepare to storm the gates of the Shirat Hayam settlement

  • A first bus carrying protesters and settlers who defied evictions is seen crossing into Israel

  • Demolitions of settlers' houses begin at the Nissanit settlement, Reuters news agency reports

  • AP reports that the settlements at Dugit, Peat Sadeh and Rafiah Yam are now empty, while others are thinning out

  • Residents of Ganei Tal and Tel Katifa have agreed to leave peacefully, Israeli media say.
'Last stand'

All 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip are due to be dismantled.

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

Four isolated West Bank settlements are also being evacuated. The Israeli army said two of them - Ganim and Kadim - were already empty.

The pullout marks the first removal of settlements from land Palestinians want for a state.

The army says more than half of the 8,500 settlers have already gone.

Troops have moved into three other settlements - Morag, Bedolah and Ganei Tal.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Neve Dekalim says some protesters were singing and chanting inside the synagogue via loudspeaker.

Others were evacuated, as soldiers surrounded their homes and loaded their possessions onto buses.

AP described how one young woman was carried away by female soldiers shouting "I don't want to, I don't want to".

Working group

Responding to the events, a leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas said Israel's non-violent pullout was appreciated by all sides.

But Mahmoud Zahar told the BBC Palestinian resistance would grow if Israel continued to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has formed a working group to co-ordinate the smooth takeover of the settlements once the Israelis leave, which will include representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Excitement is building among ordinary Palestinians as scenes of settlements being emptied are broadcast on satellite television, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Gaza City.

Israel and the Palestinians



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