Pullout resumes in Gaza

Troops on Friday have been pulling dozens of settlers and their supporters from a synagogue in Gadid, a small outpost in Gaza, after storming through burning barricades in one of the last pockets of resistance.

This comes after Thursday’s day-long operation which saw troops clearing activists from two of the area’s most hardline settlements.

Evictions are being suspended on Friday evening to respect the Jewish Sabbath.

The army said resistance to the evacuation at Gadid is “very mild”, in contrast to the events the night before at a synagogue in the hardline settlement of Kfar Darom, where settlers hurled corrosive liquid, oil and dirt bombs at unarmed riot police.

“Jews don’t expel Jews,” was the common cry as Israel’s operation to end its 38-year occupation of the tiny strip of land gathered pace.

Despite the resistance, the disengagement operation has proceeded faster than expected, with all but four of Gaza’s 21 Jewish settlements emptied by the end of the second day.

“All in all this is a victory for the security forces and for the settlers,” said the commander of the pullout operation, General Dan Harel.

He said the last settlers will probably be evacuated by Tuesday or Wednesday.

It is the first time Israel has removed Jews from Palestinian land and the operation has sharply divided the Jewish state, with many settlers accusing their one-time champion Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of betrayal.

But Palestinians have welcomed the pullout as a victory for the resistance to four decades of occupation and the international community hopes it will mark a new page in efforts to bring peace to the turbulent Middle East.

Medical sources said 75 people, including 31 police and soldiers were wounded during Thursday’s operations, while about 250 protestors were arrested after the Kfar Darom clashes.

Troops on Thursday also cleared the beachside community of Shirat Hayam, believed to be the most radical of all, dragging settlers out of their homes and hauling them onto buses.

Officials said only about a quarter of Gaza’s original Jewish population remains.

A mass rally is due to be staged by Hamas in Gaza City on Friday to celebrate the end of Israel’s presence in the territory, home to 1.3 million mostly impoverished Palestinians and scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the five-year intifada.