Troops went house to house clearing out Gaza's last Jewish settlement yesterday to wrap up Israel's historic pullout from the coastal strip, even as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would expand large West Bank settlements.
More than 5,000 troops meanwhile headed to two militant West Bank settlements that are to be evacuated today. Security forces braced for confrontations, saying some 2,000 ultranationalist youths holed up there planned to resist violently. Security officials said militants had hoarded stun grenades and tear gas canisters, and planned to hurl burning tires onto rivers of cooking oil.
In Netzarim, the about 600 residents of the farming community, one of Gaza's first settlements, were not expected to put up a fight after reaching an agreement with the military on a quiet departure. After midday prayers, Netzarim settlers were to drive out of Gaza in more than 30 armored buses and head to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest shrine, and from there to temporary homes in a West Bank settlement.
Yesterday morning, workers removed a Jewish candelabra, or menorah, from the roof of the synagogue before troops entered in large numbers and told residents and an unknown number of sympathizers it's time to go.
"We need a miracle so that we might stay here again tonight," said Jonathan Weinberg, 21, who came to Netzarim from the West Bank settlement of Hashmonaim to reinforce the settlers here.
Around midday, hundreds crowded the synagogue for final prayers.
Some residents found solace in continuing with their everyday lives. Workers poured concrete to create a foundation for the roof of the Meshulami family's new house.
Shlomo Keshet, a resident of Netzarim and the father of five, was packing car seats into the family van and preparing to relocate to a dormitory in a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. Residents, he said, agreed not to resist evacuation violently.
"We agreed not to fight or to cause problems," Keshet said.
"They are very bad neighbors," said Saadi Helo, 44, a Palestinian farmer. "They turned our lives into nightmares. They occupied the land, leveled our farms, demolished our houses, killed our beloved and spared no effort to attack us."