Israel has completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, ending its 38-year occupation. Shortly after sunrise, Israeli troops closed the gates of the main Kissufim border crossing to the abandoned settlements and raised the Israeli flag on the other side after the final military convoy rolled out.
But one contentious issue has been Israel’s last-minute decision to leave standing some 20 synagogues. The government decided not to raze the buildings after rabbis said such action was forbidden under Jewish “ritual” law. The move has angered the Palestinians who have promised to demolish the synagogues.
Israel has removed some 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 enclaves as part of its plan for disengagement from conflict with the Palestinians.
But while Palestinians welcome the pullout, they fear Israeli leaders are trading Gaza for a permanent hold on larger areas of the occupied West Bank.
However, such sentiments could not contain Palestinian celebrations. Some scampered to areas they have never been able to reach before in their lives, while others kissed the ground.
The poor territory is a volatile testing ground for Palestinian statehood.
The first task for the Palestinian Authority will be to enforce law and order and rein in powerful militant groups that refuse to disarm, while Israel retains control over Gaza’s border crossings, air space and waters.