Gaza Pullout Nearly Complete
Thousands of Palestinians began claiming for themselves land long occupied by Israelis in the Gaza Strip, after Israeli soldiers forcibly removed Israeli settlers who refused in the face of a removal decree by their own leader, Ariel Sharon.
The decision to evict several thousands of Israelis from the contentious Gaza Strip and make way for the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in the Strip was a move by Sharon aimed at moving forward the talks between Israelies and Palestinians concerning overall Mideast peace. The evictions began on Wednesday and were nearing completion on Monday. Earlier in the week, Israeli soldiers entered synagogues to remove settlers who had taken refuge in the houses of worship.
The business was not without violence. Many small groups of Israelis refused to give up their homes or otherwise leave the area as directed. Israeli soldiers had their hands full on several occasions.
Once the evictions were complete and the settlement houses were empty, Israeli soldiers returned with bulldozers and demolished all the houses in the area.
Palestinians, especially leader Mahmoud Abbas, were elated at the turn of fortune. Some estimates placed the number of Palestinians per square foot at 14,000. The total Palestinian population in Gaza is numbered at 1.3 million. The nearly 9,000 Israelis, meanwhile, lived on nearly one-third of the available land.
Palestinians engineers plan to use some of the rubble created by the Israeli bulldozers as fodder for new roads.
The Gaza Strip, a coastal piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea, was seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Jewish settlers have moved in ever since, even as the Palestinian population has skyrocketed. The area has been a virtual war zone for most of the past few decades, filled by Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian suicide bombers.
The Israeli pullout from Gaza is part of an overall plan by Sharon to help with the peace process. He has faced fierce opposition in his own country for going ahead with the pullout.
One of the major disputed areas between the two peoples is still Jerusalem, claimed by both the Jewish and Muslim religions as either a religious capital or a very important city.