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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Israel army prepares to quit Gaza
Israeli patrol in Netzarim settlement, Gaza
Israel wants to withdraw settlers and soldiers from Gaza this summer
The Israeli army has begun moving equipment out of its bases in the Gaza Strip in preparation for the pull-out from the Palestinian territory.

A spokesman said about 30 containers of non-military equipment were leaving a base in southern Gaza.

The move comes as Israel's government considers delaying the start of the withdrawal by three weeks.

About 8,000 Jewish settlers and the soldiers who guard them are to leave this summer.

Israel will continue to control Gaza's external borders, coastline and airspace after the pull-out.

The BBC's Nick Childs, in Jerusalem, describes the movement of equipment as a symbolic step.

He says it sends the message that whatever the current political uncertainties over the precise timing of the disengagement, the security establishment at least is moving ahead with its preparations.

'Non-essential'

"In order to complete disengagement as quickly as possible, the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] has begun to remove logistical equipment and infrastructure from their bases in the Gaza Strip," the military spokesman told French news agency AFP.

"Around 30 containers are due to leave a base in the southern Gaza Strip today to just outside the territory."

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon had set 20 July for the start of Gaza withdrawal
The spokesman said the equipment being transferred on Wednesday involved non-essential items such as computers, clothing and furniture.

"It does not involve security or defence infrastructure," he said. "It is not diluting our ability to defend Israeli citizens."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to dismantle all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank.

Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Middle East war.

Wednesday also saw Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres announce that he would meet Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei on Thursday for talks on the pull-out from Gaza.

Delay?

On Tuesday, Mr Sharon met cabinet ministers to discuss a three-week delay to the planned 20 July withdrawal from Gaza because of Jewish religious considerations.

The proposed pull-out coincides with a period of mourning marking the destruction of two biblical temples.

The meeting ended without a decision being made, though one is expected soon.

Our correspondent says critics suggest the delay is designed to buy time because the authorities are not ready.

Right-wing settlers have vowed to resist the government's efforts to uproot them from Gaza, depicting the plan as a betrayal by Mr Sharon.


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