Army preparing for demolition of settlers' houses

Israeli soldiers bring cranes, bulldozers to empty areas of Gaza

August 20, 2005|By Rafael Frankel and Joel Greenberg | Rafael Frankel and Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

GADID, Gaza Strip - The Israeli army moved cranes and bulldozers yesterday into some empty settlements in Gaza, preparing to tear apart the homes of Jewish settlers forced out earlier in the week. Extensive demolitions are expected within days.

Cranes were pulled into Kerem Atzmona yesterday afternoon, and there were reports that about 20 homes were flattened there. Several bulldozers were observed yesterday at the settlement of Peat Sadeh on the third full day of the historic pullout of Israelis from Gaza.

Soldiers are expected to evacuate the final four settlements - out of 21 that once existed in Gaza - by Tuesday.

Much of the operation yesterday focused on evacuating protesters from the single settlement of Gadid. About 60 people in a synagogue tried to resist, and soldiers eventually entered the settlement by bulldozer, pushing aside burning debris. The standoff was smaller than the hours-long tumult that soldiers confronted a day earlier in two hard-line communities, Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom.

The Gaza operation was halted for the weekend when the last protester left Gadid, to allow observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

Later yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told cheering crowds in Gaza that promised construction on the former settler tracts - this time to provide Palestinians homes - would commence as soon the Israeli army finished its planned mission in Gaza and the West Bank.

Abbas, speaking in the southern town of Rafah, pledged to rebuild homes demolished in battles during the past five years. He said the Israeli pullout in Gaza came as a result of Palestinian "sacrifices" and "patience," and he promised further Israeli pullouts from the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The operation at Gadid, studded with emotional outcries by the settlers, moved speedily. No soldiers were reported injured. A civilian who threw oil at troops while standing on the roof of the synagogue slipped and fell, suffering moderate injuries, the army said. A total of 300 civilians left Gadid yesterday, the army said.

A day earlier, soldiers in the larger settlements had been doused with acid by some protesters. Police said 244 protesters were arrested as a result of the clashes Thursday.

Yesterday, there was a rare element of Palestinian interference, as two Hamas militants were wounded when an explosive device they were carrying accidentally blew up before they could plant it near the evacuated Kfar Darom settlement, the Associated Press reported.

The extent of their injuries was unknown, according to Palestinian security officials, who could not be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the news media. The militants apparently wanted to target Israeli troops guarding the emptied settlement to bolster Hamas claims of having driven the Israelis from Gaza.

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