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Israel Completes Pullout From Gaza, West Bank Settlements

Israeli military Commander Meir Ben-Ishai said Tuesday afternoon, according to the Associated Press, ”The removal is over.”

The evacuation of several hundred settlers from the Homesh and Sanur communities, most of whom were not residents but ultranationalists who positioned themselves in synagogues and houses to resist the pullout, according to the AP, came just hours after Israeli soldiers had finished removing the last of some 8,500 Jews from 21 Gaza Strip settlements.

Settlers from the two other West Bank communities, Ganim and Kadim, had already left on their own.

Armed with riot gear, wire cutters and water hoses, some 6,000 Israeli soldiers entered Homesh and Sanur early Tuesday, gearing up for what was expected to be the fiercest resistance to the pullout. But just nine hours after storming the settlements to remove an estimated 1,600 remaining Israelis, the operation was finished, the military said, the AP reported.

Demolition of homes in all 25 settlements will be completed within 10 days, Israeli army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said, according to the AP. The military began tearing down homes in withdrawn Gaza Strip communities last week.

The overall pullout, which was completed much faster than Israeli officials had publicly anticipated, marked the first time Israel has abandoned land Palestinians claim for their future state.

And while Palestinian officials and outside observers have praised the move, the vast majority of Israeli settlers in the West Bank — some 230,000 — still remain, living among 2.4 million Palestinians, according to Reuters. There are no plans for more evacuations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been criticized by many of the country’s conservatives, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for pushing the withdrawal, has said the move would improve security inside Israel and strengthen the country’s grip on main West Bank settlements.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called Sharon late Monday to praise him for the pullout, telling him, “We are your partner for peace,” according to the AP.

President Bush on Tuesday congratulated Sharon for making what he called “a very tough decision” to withdraw from the 25 settlements.

He added that “It’s very important for the world to stay focused on Gaza” as the territory’s economy begins to recover from the pullout.

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