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Israel Begins Pullout from Gaza Strip

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is off this week. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today, Israel launched its withdrawal from Gaza. It's the beginning of the end of a 38-year occupation. Thousands of police and soldiers are supposed to be handing out eviction notices to Jews in all 21 settlements in Gaza as well as four in the northern West Bank. Settlers have to be out within 48 hours or else they'll be forcibly removed, but in several settlements, settlers locked the gates. NPR's Linda Gradstein is at the location of one standoff between settlers and soldiers. It is at the largest settlement in Gaza, N'vei Dekalim.

And, Linda, what are you seeing and hearing today?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, there were--several thousand young people came to the front gate of the settlement very early in the morning about 7 in the morning waiting for the army, and at about 8:30 or so, the army showed up, several thousand soldiers. They stood outside the gates. They did not try to break in. However, in the back of the settlement, in what's called the Industrial Zone, a group of about a hundred soldiers did break into the settlement. They were quickly surrounded by young settlers who tried to convince them to disobey orders. They were not able to hand out the eviction notices, and most of the soldiers seemed impervious to the pleas of the young settlers to refuse orders. However, I did see one young officer break down into tears, throw his arms around the settler who was trying to convince him and say, `I just can't do it. I just can't do it.'

INSKEEP: Difficult situation for the Israeli military because they're under orders not to use force if at all possible to get this done. Are there any indications of violence?

GRADSTEIN: Well, not so far. Today is sort of a dress rehearsal for the real eviction which is going to begin on Wednesday. Military officials say when the time comes that we are going to have to remove these people, we will do it, and they say that they will use force if necessary. There's a team of 17 soldiers and police for each house, for each family of Jewish settlers.

INSKEEP: And so counting 48 hours off from today. So Wednesday is the time that people who have not already left would be faced with these teams of 17 people?

GRADSTEIN: Right. In other words, officially as of midnight last night, it has become illegal for any Israeli to remain in Gaza. However, they've been given sort of a two-day grace period during which they're given a last chance to pack up. For example, one family that I was speaking to earlier says that they're going to stay until Tuesday evening and then they're going to have a ceremony, entire settlement together, and then they're going to leave in one convoy. They will not wait until the army comes and knocks on their door. However, here in N'vei Dekalim, as well as several other settlements as far as Nazam Netzarim(ph), they say they will not leave and that the police and soldiers will have to actually drag them out. There's also kind of a dispute going on between the residents who have lived here--some of whom for 30 years--and thousands of mostly young people who have come in in the past few weeks. And the younger people are the ones using the violence. Last night on the road in front of N'vei Dekalim, a few young people punctured the tires of army Jeeps, tried to overturn the Jeep. So they are concerned about the possibility of violence.

INSKEEP: Linda, I have to ask: Many settlers, of course, are already leaving in advance of these demands that they leave and you mentioned that at the same time, people have been coming in. Is it your impression that there are fewer or more people in the settlements that you've seen than normal?

GRADSTEIN: Well, N'vei Dekalim, which has a population of about 2,700--the population has doubled. I was in a sort of open plaza of the settlement last night about midnight and there were several thousand young people singing and dancing and saying that they will do whatever they can to resist the soldiers and there's definitely been an increase here. I think it depends on the settlements, the three northern settlements. Many of the families have left and the chief of staff said yesterday that he expects about half of the settlers will leave by the Tuesday night deadline and will not have to be forcibly evicted. However, there are approximately 5,000 others who have come in recent weeks who will also have to be taken out.

INSKEEP: NPR's Linda Gradstein is reporting from the largest settlement in Gaza.

Linda, thanks.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And complete coverage of the Gaza pullout is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.
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