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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 06:37 GMT 07:37 UK
Gaza pullout 'may end on Monday'
Rafah crossing
Israel has closed the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt
Israeli troops may complete their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on Monday, three days ahead of schedule, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz says.

He added that the controversial destruction of synagogues in former Jewish settlements was the only factor that could cause a delay.

Israel's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal against their demolition.

Mr Mofaz said the cabinet was due to make a final decision on Sunday, adding he would vote against demolishing them.

"According to the plan I authorised yesterday [Thursday]... on Monday the 12th of the month no Israeli army soldier will remain in the boundaries of the Gaza Strip," Mr Mofaz told Israeli army radio.

'Limited freedom'

In a final move before abandoning the area, the army is also due to dismantle its liaison office and a bridge linking the Israeli border to the Gush Katif settlement.

Israel has also closed the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt for the next six months.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was due to attend the UN General Assembly next week, has announced he will stay and monitor the end of the withdrawal instead.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) will take over the Gaza Strip after Israel completes its withdrawal of settlers and soldiers after 38 years of occupation.

PA officials said the closure of Rafah, which was a main gateway to the outside world, had not been co-ordinated with them.

They added they would continue to insist on total freedom of movement between Gaza and Egypt, without any Israeli controls - otherwise, they said, the Israeli occupation of Gaza would not have really ended.

Israel says it wants to preserve a presence on the border, citing doubts about the PA's ability to prevent arms smuggling to militants in Gaza.

International negotiators have been attempting to broker a deal under which Egypt, the Palestinians and a third party would control the Rafah crossing while Israel would monitor it from afar by camera.

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