It was the moment many had been praying for and just as many had been dreading – the offical closure of 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four more in the West Bank.It is the first Israeli pullout from territory Palestinians want for a future state. But, in an ironic reflection of the mixed emotions surrounding the event, at aceremonial closing of the last roadblock into Gaza settlements the barrier apparently suffered technical problems, going up and down several times before finally coming to a halt. It is now illegal for Israeli citizens to live in Gaza. However, a 48-hour period of grace has been declared, during which any of the 8,500 settlers who have not yet left their homes may still move out voluntarily. After that, the Israeli army will forcibly eject them. It is a time of major tension in the region and a massive Israeli and Palestinian security operation is underway. Many Israelis see Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan as a betrayal of their Biblical birthright. Thousands are expected to launch a fierce resistance. While Palestinians in general welcome the move, a large number fear it masks an Israeli plan to tighten its grip on the West Bank.
Israeli pullout from Gaza officially begins