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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 August 2005, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Settler homes bulldozed in Gaza
Demolition in Peat Sadeh
Villas have been reduced to rubble
Israeli bulldozers have begun to demolish empty homes in the Gaza Strip as the operation to evict Jewish settlers nears its completion.

Earlier, soldiers and police prayed with residents of the large Gush Katif settlement bloc before they too were evicted from their homes.

Elsewhere, an Israeli soldier was reportedly hurt by Palestinian gunfire.

He was hit in the hand as he guarded the empty Neve Dekalim settlement, an army spokeswoman told AP news agency.

Only one of the 21 Gaza settlements - Netzarim - was expected to remain inhabited by nightfall.

Demolition work began in four of the empty settlements - Nissanit and Dugit in the north of the strip and Peat Sadeh and Ganei Tal in the south.

Bulldozers and excavators ripped through the red-tiled roofs and white-washed walls of the homes, the BBC's Jim Fish reports.

The demolitions are in accordance with an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Neve Dekalim

Israel has spent five days making a series of swift evictions from settlements around the Gaza Strip, but suspended action for 24 hours from sunset on Friday to mark the Jewish Sabbath.

The focus of attention is expected to now shift towards the West Bank, where four isolated settlements are also due to be closed, starting in the next few days. Two are already empty.

Skirmishes were reported on Sunday between Jewish settlers and the Israeli army.

Earlier, settlers at Katif had set tyres and bales of hay alight at the gates of the settlement in an effort to block Israeli troops from removing them.

Israeli army troops walk in front of a bulldozer towards a burning barricade
The army used a bulldozer to push through burning barriers

Israeli forces also forced their way into the southern settlements of Atzmona and Slav on Sunday, where they faced only token protest - if any.

Many police and soldiers have cried with settlers during the evacuation, an Israeli police spokeswoman told the BBC.

A settler family in Atzmona had set up a symbolic "Cemetery of the Oppressors", with tombstones for Hitler and Arafat, among others.

The name on the final tombstone was blank. A settler woman at the scene refused to say who it was for.

Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip since capturing it from Egypt in 1967.


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See homes being bulldozed at one settlement



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