Israeli troops enter Netzarim

Most Gaza settlers have already been removed from 21 Jewish settlements, to end four decades of occupation of the Palestinian land by Israel.

Bulldozers are at work destroying Jewish houses in emptied settlements and thousands of soldiers have been taking up positions around two hardline settlements in the West Bank for the next phase of the historic operation.

Netzarim is considered one of the most, if not the most hardline Jewish Gaza community, however residents appeared resigned to their fate.

“We know this day would come, but we will get over it and move on,” said Netzarim’s Rabbi Eyal Vered, quoted by Reuters.

“We will win, but not with force. God forbid that blood will be spilled,” he said.

Nevertheless, settlers have made their feelings clear.

Graffiti on a water tank declares “”Yigal Amir, where are you?”, referring to the killer of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who only three years ago declared that Netzarim was as integral a part of Israel as Tel Aviv, is the focus of their anger for forcing them from their homes.

Workers and settlers clad in orange, the colour of the anti-disengagement movement, have been seen hard at work.

Shlomit Ziv, a teacher who has lived in Netzarim for the last 13 years, rejected the idea that Gaza should form part of an independent Palestinian state.

“They have no right to a state of their own,” said the mother of eight whose children were all born in Netzarim, speaking to AFP.

“There are plenty of Arab states and we have only one.”

Netzarim has been described as the most despised of the 21 Gaza settlements and a “bone in the throat” of the Palestinian population, who were subjected to endless road closures so settlers could move around with army protection.

Security sources said around 2,000 forces were taking part in the operation which is expected to be wrapped up by the afternoon.

Brigadier General Hagai Dotan, in command of the evacuation operation, said he hoped settlers would agree to leave after a final prayer session and then head on mass to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

With the operation in Gaza Strip reaching its end more rapidly than expected, violence erupted between security forces and settlers over their upcoming eviction from two hardline settlements in the northern West Bank.

Residents of two of the four West Bank settlements due to be cleared have reportedly already left, but an estimated 2,000 activists have gathered at Sanur and Homesh, and the BBC reports they plan to mount fierce resistance.

Mr Sharon’s disengagement plan has raised international hopes of a genuine revival of the moribund Middle East peace process, left in tatters by five years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

However Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said Israel can only prove it was serious about peace if it halts its West Bank settlement program, something Mr Sharon has vowed to continue.

In empty Gaza settlements, bulldozers have already begun reducing the former homes to rubble while workers are also busy dismantling synagogues.