1,000 troops enter Neveh Dekalim as evacuation looms

As a midnight deadline neared for the beginning of forced evictions of Gaza Strip settlers, senior IDF officers said late on Tuesday that the evacuation of the key Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim could be completed in as little as 24 hours. A force of more than 1,000 IDF troops moved late Tuesday into Neveh Dekalim, going door-to-door in a last-minute effort to convince settlers to leave voluntarily ahead of the deadline. The soldiers moved past tires set afire by protesters in the streets of the largest settlement in the Strip. „It is not unreasonable that the evacuation of Neve Dekalim could take 24 hours,” one senior officer said. Meanwhile, settlers of Ganei Tal in Gush Katif reached an agreement Tuesday evening with the army, giving them until noontime Wednesday to leave their homes voluntarily. The entry of the troops closely followed a widely broadcast announcement by IDF Major General Dan Harel, overall military commander of Gaza. „In the coming hours we will begin to come to residents, in particular of Neveh Dekalim, and demand that they come out,” Harel said. „We are entering the phase of forced evacuation.” But soldiers would not be using physical force at this stage, he said. Neveh Dekalim is the effective capital of the settlement movement in the Gaza Strip. As the deadline neared for voluntary evacuation, a long line of tractors, trucks, armored bulldozers and buses full of Israeli soldiers stretched from the Kissufim crossing into the Strip to the Netzer Hazani settlement in Gush Katif. Senior disengagement official Eival Giladi said earlier in the evening that nearly half of the residents of Gaza Strip settlements have left of their own volition. „This plan is going as scheduled. Close to 50 percent of the residents have left,” Giladi, a reserve brigadier general and chief of coordination and strategy for the Prime Minister’s Office, told a briefing for reporters. Early on Wednesday, troops and police are to begin evacuating the remaining settlers by force. „I would say that in a few days, there will be no settlers or infiltrators left in Gaza.” Accounts varied as to how many settlers were still in their homes Tuesday evening. One source said that out of 1,700 families, 1,000 had left Gush Katif, while a later report said 830 families had left. From Neveh Dekalim alone, 210 families left Tuesday, nearly half the settlement’s total. Seven settlements were either completely empty or had very few families still in them. 50 arrested in Tuesday clashes Earlier in the day, hundreds of anti-disengagement protesters, setting tires ablaze to block the main street of Neveh Dekalim, clashed with security forces. The forces had moved in to allow the entry of shipping containers intended for settlers who planned to leave voluntarily later in the day. Police arrested at least 50 youths who scuffled with officers and attempted to prevent the entry of the containers into Neveh Dekalim, the effective capital of the settlement movement in the Gaza Strip. One police officer was wounded when settlers threw acetone in his eyes. The officer began shouting, „I can’t see!” Rioters sprayed another policeman with an unidentified liquid, and he suffered burns on his back. Youths also assaulted senior officers and journalists present at the scene, destroying a camera of a Reuters photographer, throwing paint and cleaning fluids at an army colonel, and breaking the glasses of another journalist. Two settlers were also lightly wounded during in the clashes. In a parallel escalation of protest, settlers set fire to seven structures. In one of the cases, a resident of Gan Or suffered burns to his legs after setting fire to his evacuated home Tuesday afternoon. He was taken to hospital for treatment. Three Pe’at Sadeh evacuees torched their homes with firebombs before leaving the houses. In the settlement of Bedolah three packinghouses were burnt. By Tuesday afternoon, police had arrested more than 800 attempting to infiltrate the Gaza Strip. Police later announced plans to release most of those arrested. But Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Tuesday threatened tough against anyone who tried to disrupt the pullout from the Gaza Strip. IDF hopes to end Gaza evacuations in 10 days The Israel Defense Forces is hoping to finish evacuating the Gaza Strip settlements within 10 days, despite the fact that the thousands of people who infiltrated the settlements in recent weeks are already escalating the opposition beyond what the residents themselves deem appropriate. A senior IDF officer told Haaretz that barring a last-minute disaster, he believes it will be possible to complete the evacuation by a week from Thursday. In Neveh Dekalim Tuesday morning officers from the Yasam SWAT teams seized protesting youths and ejected them to some 300 meters outside the settlement’s main gate. Yasam personnel and engineering forces earlier on Tuesday morning had dismantled and removed the main metal entrance gate to Neveh Dekalim. This move made it much more difficult for anti-pullout protesters to prevent the entry into the settlement of moving trucks and security forces involved in evacuation efforts. On Tuesday afternoon, while the clashes between the two sides were at their peak, an understanding was reached between the IDF and the settlement’s secretariat, whereby the solders would pull back to the direction of the main entrance gate, and the secretariat would allow the entry of another 13 shipping containers. Rabbis and representatives of the secretariat convinced the rioting youths to allow the entry of the containers. BPI-info