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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Palestinians celebrate Gaza exit
Palestinians celebrated and scavenged in the rubble

Jubilant Palestinians have taken control of the Gaza Strip following the withdrawal of Israeli troops more than 38 years after they captured the area.

Thousands entered the former Jewish enclaves, some setting an abandoned synagogue ablaze in a settlement.

Crowds celebrated in the town of Rafah, on the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli withdrawal was an historic and joyful day for his people, but some issues still had to be resolved.

Mr Abbas told the BBC the factors included Israel's insistence on determining who could enter or leave Gaza, and its control of Gaza's airspace and the waters off its coast.

Egyptian guards shot dead a Palestinian man at the Egypt-Gaza border, Palestinian witnesses said.

'Liberate all land'

However, an Egyptian spokesman has denied that his country's forces fired the shots that killed the man.

Fireworks exploded over the Neve Dekalim settlement, as the Israelis pulled out.

Today is the happiest day in my life
Jawad Abu Lafi

Plans to bar civilians and militants from the settlements quickly disintegrated, and people poured in and attacked the hated symbols of occupation.

Masked gunmen climbed to the top of watchtowers and raised flags of militant groups.

Hundreds streamed into the buffer between Gaza and Egypt. Rafah's residents were reunited with relatives living on the Egyptian side who they have not seen for years.

Palestinian witnesses say Egyptian forces opened fire to disperse the crowds swarming across the border both ways.

Palestinians celebrate as Israeli soldiers leave Gaza.

Many Palestinians have been picking through the rubble of settler homes. They rescued and carried whatever they could - from electricity cables and doors to pipes and scrap metal.

Militant group Hamas said its campaign of violence had been the driving force behind Israel's withdrawal.

"We will not rest until we liberate all Palestinian land, crowned by Jerusalem," leader Ismail Hanieh said.

Israel says it will retaliate harshly to any attack on its citizens from the area.

Border issue

Israel declared a formal end to military rule on Sunday before its remaining 3,000 troops left.

Tanks and armoured vehicles left under cover of darkness and the last officer shut the Kissufim border at dawn.

Israeli troops and tanks at Kissufim crossing
Departing troops held a flag raising ceremony outside the strip

Israel had already removed its settlers from Gaza, bulldozed their homes and demolished its military bases.

The government did not raze more than 20 deconsecrated synagogues in the Strip after rabbis said it was forbidden to do so.

Israel will retain control over the territory's air and sea space and, at least temporarily, all its borders.

The Israelis say they have to prevent militant groups smuggling in weapons, but the Palestinians say that as long as Israel controls all Gaza's links with the outside world, the occupation will continue.

The Palestinian Authority says it will continue to insist on total freedom of movement between Gaza and Egypt - otherwise, they add, the Israeli occupation of Gaza will not have really ended.


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