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Gaza Settlers Given 48 Hours to Leave

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There was strong resistance from settlers today as Israel began its historic withdrawal from Gaza. Some settlers did pack up and leave, but many more did not. Defiant settlers locked the gates of their communities to the Israeli army and police. Some burned tires to block roads. The Israeli army is giving settlers today and tomorrow to leave voluntarily. On Wednesday, those remaining will be removed by force. In this part of the program we'll hear from a Palestinian refugee camp, as well as how the Israeli public sees the pullout. We begin our coverage with NPR's Mike Shuster.

Protesters: (Chanting in foreign language)

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

`Soldiers, police, refuse your orders' was the chant that Neve Dekalim, the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza. Neve Dekalim is one of the most defiant settlements and one that has attracted many supporters from around Israel to bolster the resistance there. Some cried; many prayed. Some chained the settlement's gates shut, and Israel soldiers and police were not able to deliver the message they are spreading throughout the Jewish settlements in Gaza: `The time has come to leave.' Hyam Isan(ph), who came from Jerusalem to support the settlers, called the withdrawal plan wicked and evil.

Mr. HYAM ISAN (Opposes Withdrawal Plan): We continue to pray that good sense and a basic sense of humanity and morality will prevail over what the government is attempting to perpetrate.

SHUSTER: Not everyone is resisting at Neve Dekalim. Some of the settlers were packing boxes and loading moving vans. On the roads leading from Gaza, there has been a slow but steady trickle of settlers and their household possessions heading toward a new life in Israel proper. Gaza is now off limits to civilians trying to get in but open to all who want to leave.

At Kfar Darom, Gaza's first Jewish settlement, the mood was also defiant. There are fears that some of the settlers and their supporters will use violence to resist when the soldiers come for real on Wednesday. Shulah Sheshan(ph) insisted they will not resort to violence.

Ms. SHULAH SHESHAN (Kfar Darom Resident): I think that nobody will fight with the army, but we don't want to go from here. So they'll deliver how you can do the votings, not to fight with the soldiers and not to go from here. It's very--we can't imagine it. This is the truth: that we can't imagine how we will go and close the gate after us.

Group of People: (Singing in foreign language)

SHUSTER: But for some there may be a thin line between resistance and the use of force. Aria Ichaki(ph) of the beachside settlement Shirat Hayam announced a new authority over the Gaza settlements and hinted he and his followers will resist strongly.

Mr. ARIA ICHAKI: We claim the declaration of independence of the Jewish authority in Gaza Strip. We see authority like the Palestinian Authority, too.

SHUSTER: What are your plans for today and tomorrow?

Mr. HYAM: To resist with all the power against the police without fire.

SHUSTER: Nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers live in Gaza. The army expects more than half of them to leave voluntarily before Wednesday. But as many as 5,000 supporters, most of them teen-agers, have infiltrated Gaza to bolster the resistance. Still, Israel's civilian and military leadership continues to express confidence that the withdrawal will go smoothly and swiftly. Tonight, in a televised address, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Israelis he understands the pain of this step but insisted it is necessary for Israel's future.

Prime Minister ARIEL SHARON (Israel): (Foreign language spoken)

SHUSTER: `We are embarking on a new path,' Sharon said, `with many dangers but with a ray of hope for all of us. With God's help, may it be one of unity, not division. I will do my utmost to make this happen,' Sharon said. The Palestinians were left today mostly to watch the process. Several thousand Palestinian police moved into positions close to the settlements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must now begin discussions on the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem as well.

Late in the day settlers in Neve Dekalim finally permitted moving containers into the settlement, perhaps an indication that community leaders are now resigned to the inevitable. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Kissufim, just outside of Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Shuster
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.
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