Israeli soldiers on Monday removed the last inhabitants from the settlement of Netzarim, the final settlement slated for evacuation, marking the end of 38 years of Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Troops moved into the settlement during the early hours of the morning to remove its inhabitants, numbering around 600. Many families had lived in the Strip since the inception of the Gaza settlement movement.
The withdrawal comes a little more than a year after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided that Israel could no longer properly defend the coastal Jewish settlements, whose inhabitants numbered approximately 8,500, in the midst of over one million Palestinians.
Following the demolition of all settlement structures previously held by their Jewish inhabitants, Israel will hand over the Gaza Strip to full Palestinian control.
Despite the fact that Israeli forces faced charged battles with Jewish settlers in recent days, the likes of which Israel had never seen, the withdrawal proceeded more quickly than was expected. The next phase of the pullout will be the dismantling of four northern West Bank settlements, where resistance to Israeli forces is expected to be far greater than that experienced in the Gaza Strip in recent days.
More than 240,000 settlers currently live in the West Bank, where many of Gaza's previous settlers plan to relocate to.
Sharon said on Monday that he would continue to expand settlements in the West Bank, a longstanding policy that has put him at odds with the US and international communities.
The evacuation from Netzarim follows the evacuationon Sunday of seven other settlements: Slav, Katif, Dugit, Neveh Dekalim, Atzmona, Elei Sinai and Nisanit.
Meanwhile, the demolition of evacuated settlement buildings continues. Currently, nearly 200 bulldozers await demolition orders from Israeli commanders in the area.
On Sunday, 50 bulldozers operated in Gaza tearing down evacuated structures in the settlements of Nitzanit, Dugit, Peat Sadeh and Ganei Tal, where some 40 houses came down in one hour.
More than three-quarters of the rubble from demolished homes will be recycled for use as future building material by Palestinians. The rest will most likely be shipped out of the Gaza Strip to Egypt, where it will be disposed of in the Sinai.
© 2005 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )