Addressing the nation in a televised speech Monday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel could not expect to hold on to Gaza Strip forever and that the unilateral pullout is Israel's answer to the current reality.
"It is no secret that I, like many others, believed and hoped that we would be able to hold onto Netzarim and Kfar Darom forever," Sharon said. "The changing reality in the country, the region, and the world required a different assessment and a change in [my] position."
The evacuation of settlers from Gaza that the withdrawal was vital despite the pain it caused, he said, and vowed the "harshest response ever" to any attack by Palestinians after the pullout.
"This act is essential for Israel. Believe me, the pain I feel with this act is the full realisation that we must do it," Sharon said. "We cannot hold onto Gaza forever, more than a milion Palestinians live there... crowded in refugee camps, poverty and hotbeds of hatred with no hope on the horizon."
In Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a beginning of withdrawal from the whole Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, including the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
During the PLO Executive Committee meeting, attended by various organizations, Abbas congratulated the Palestinian people on the removal of the Israeli colonies forever.