The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) officially began a historic evacuation of the Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip at midnight Sunday, reported the Palestine Media Centre (PMC) on Monday
It added: ‘The Israelis say it’s the end of their occupation of the coastal strip, but the Palestinians insist it’s only “evacuation” and not liberation and Israel remains the occupying power.’
The Israeli cabinet on Monday gave final approval to quit Gush Katif, the largest Gaza settlement bloc, a vote seen as a formality.
There were clashes Monday morning as groups of extremist settlers blocked off the most hardline settlements, preventing Israeli soldiers from delivering 48-hour eviction notices.
IOF troops were deterred by protesters in some enclaves but walked door-to-door in others, telling settlers to leave by Wednesday or face forcible eviction under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to end Israel’s 38-year occupation of Gaza.
Hundreds of settlers have signed state compensation deals to leave.
Those who refuse to go could lose a third of the money, which ranges from $150,000 to $400,000 a family.
Hundreds of Zionist settlers blocked the gates of Neve Dekalim, Gaza’s largest settlement, to prevent Israeli forces from entering.
A crowd of youths wearing orange sat on the streets and screamed at the soldiers.
IOF troops moved into the settlement through a second entrance, only to be blocked by crowds who burned tyres and formed human chains.
When a small group of soldiers managed to enter, settlers took the eviction notices and burned them.
One police officer was covered in green paint thrown by protesters.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops also clashed with Zionist settlers who refused to evacuate some of the little settlements in the West Bank.
Clashes broke out at Shafi Shamron along the road leading to the Homish settlement, which is among four small settlements in the West Bank intended for evacuation under the ‘disengagement’ plan.
Despite the standoff in Gaza, there were signs that residents would leave before the deadline. A convoy of moving trucks drove in through the main gate.
While many of Gaza’s 8,500 residents have left, the Israeli army estimates that several thousand people remain, including extremists who infiltrated Gaza.
Over 7,000 Palestinian police moved into positions near settlements to keep away Palestinian crowds and prevent attacks during the pullout, something that Israel warned would bring harsh retaliation.
Palestinian residents watched settlers packing up.
Hundreds of supporters of the Islamic Jihad resistance group celebrated in Gaza City on Sunday, with men firing guns in the air, and teens setting off fire crackers and distributing sweets.
Hamas organised special midnight prayers of thanks at Gaza mosques.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas offered the Israelis reassurance.
He told Channel 10 TV: ‘We tell the Israeli people, “You have chosen the right path.”
‘Don’t listen to the voices of the extremists who want a continuation of the occupation.
‘I don’t want – and I will not accept – any clashes with the army or the settlers.’
However, there were exchanges of fire early on Monday between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians near the Kfar Darom settlement, and mortar shells fell in two settlements and near an army base.
No casualties were reported.
More than 60,000 IOF troops were deployed in an attempt to secure a non-violent evacuation.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) reiterated that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip does not change the legal status neither of the evacuated areas as occupied territories nor of Israel as the occupying power.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei said on Sunday, Qurei announced that Israeli evacuation from Gaza and northern West Bank is a step towards the implementation of the Quartet-drafted and UN-adopted ‘roadmap’ peace plan.
He told reporters in Gaza that the evacuation is part of the ‘roadmap’ that once it is implemented, ‘an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital would be established beside the state of Israel’.
However Qurei’s deputy and Information Minister Nabil Sha’th warned on Saturday that Israel continues to control Gaza’s skies, land and sea.
Sha’th also confirmed that the issue of the Gaza Strip border crossings, including the Rafah international crossing with Egypt, was still outstanding with Israel.
Separately the PNA Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that: ‘Israel remains an occupying power bearing the legal and humanitarian responsibility in compliance with the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 and the obligations arising from The Hague Regulations of 1907.’
Following the withdrawal ‘Israel will maintain its control of the (Palestinian) air and naval spaces as well as its partial control of the crossings,’ the statement said, adding: ‘Israel will also give its forces the right to enter the Gaza Strip whenever it deems necessary.’
Because the Israeli ‘disengagement’ from Gaza is a ‘unilateral plan, the exit by the Israeli forces does not mean the end of the occupation as the international law does not give the occupying power the right to announce the end of its occupation unless such an announcement entails that the people under occupation practice their right to self-determination,’ in accordance with the charter of the United Nations, the statement indicated.
Israel’s ‘disengagement’ plan was not negotiated with nor agreed upon by the PNA, the statement noted. It also drew attention to the fact that this plan, both in text and practice, prejudice the territorial unity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The PNA also cited the interim Oslo accords, which stipulate that the Palestinian territories will remain under occupation until the time when a final peace agreement is reached and implemented in full, according to the statement.
The Palestine Media Centre warned of a ‘shift of the battleground from Gaza to Jerusalem’.
The Israeli extremists and settlers have their own plans that have nothing to do with media speculations and seem to have moved their major battle to abort the ‘disengagement’; from Gaza to Jerusalem, said the PMC.
Israeli leaders of the illegal settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories decided on Sunday to seal off all entrances to Islam’s third holiest site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by midnight to coincide with the sealing off of the Jewish colonies in the Gaza Strip by Israel.
The number of illegal settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in 2004 reached 440,415, of which 432,275 live in Israeli colonies in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and 8,140 in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported last week.
Thousands of Palestinians were transported from all Palestinian towns and cities to Al-Aqsa Mosque to counter attempts by extremist and rightist Jews.
The Islamic movement in Israel, on Sunday announced Palestinians would be taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in bus convoys to counter the settlers and extreme Zionists’ plans after they started gathering at Al-Buraq Wall area.
On the Israeli Police presence, Chief Judge in Palestinian territory Sheikh Tayseer Al-Timimi said it aims at preventing Palestinians, not Israeli extremists, from reaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
He told Radio Palestine ‘Israeli Police want to intimidate Palestinian worshippers and prevent them from defending the Mosque from Israeli extremists.’
Palestinian sources said the Israeli police attacked and beat some of the demonstrators protesting against a decision preventing Muslims – from the West Bank and Israel under the age of 45 – from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.