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Israeli Police Storm Homes, Synagogues in Gaza

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In the Gaza Strip today--the biggest confrontations yet between Israeli forces and settlers who refuse to leave. Without weapons, soldiers and police stormed homes, schools and synagogues full of determined settlers and their supporters. Overall, according to Israeli media reports, more than 40 people were injured today; among them, police officers doused with a liquid that authorities said was acid.

SIEGEL: Kfar Darom is the oldest Gaza settlement, and its nearly 500 residents were considered among the staunchest opponents of the withdrawal. Those settlers were reinforced by Israeli hard-liners, who sneaked into Gaza from the West Bank. NPR's Linda Gradstein spent the day in Kfar Darom and sent this report.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Before dawn hundreds of young Jewish settlers barricaded themselves inside the synagogue. They bolted the doors from the inside and gathered behind coils of barbed wire on the roof. The set up barricades of furniture in the synagogue and poured oil on the steps to make it harder for the police and soldiers to reach them. Around 6 AM thousands of police and soldiers streamed into the settlement. Some surrounded the synagogue but made no move to enter. The settlers on the roof directed a constant stream of yelling and catcalls at the soldiers below.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GRADSTEIN: `Don't betray yourselves. Don't betray the land.' The soldiers looked on impassively, and some even smiled when the protesters played songs especially written for the Gaza withdrawal.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

GRADSTEIN: `A Jew doesn't expel a Jew,' the lyrics read.

All during the morning and afternoon police and soldiers went house to house elsewhere in the settlement trying to convince the residents of Kfar Darom to leave. Some, like the Sipolevitch(ph) family, agreed to go quietly. But before they left, the mother of the family, who refused to give her first name, told the female soldiers to look at her son.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

GRADSTEIN: `This is Zev(ph), and he's 15 months old,' she told them. `This is who you're throwing out of his house. I had to wake him up from his nap to be expelled.' In the end, one young teen-ager in the house collapsed in tears as he came out.

In a nearby nursery school, police and soldiers evacuated several families who were sitting on the floor with their children. Some of the children were screaming as they were carried out and put on buses. Most of these settlers have made no plans for the future, so they will be taken to hotels at least for the next few days. The day's most dramatic moment came at 5 PM when hundreds of soldiers and police wearing full riot gear stormed into the synagogue.

(Soundbite of police activity; whistles)

GRADSTEIN: They took over the building, breaking open the doors and throwing out the furniture. They carried out protesters one by one. After an hour there was a break. Several rabbis went in to negotiate with remaining protesters on the roof to try to convince them to leave peacefully. After the rabbis left, the protesters began to sing the Israeli national anthem.

Protesters: (Singing in foreign language)

GRADSTEIN: Soon afterwards the police tried to storm the roof, but the protesters were ready for them. They threw everything they had at the troops: oil, eggs, sand, lightbulbs filled with paint and glue. As the confrontation escalated, some of the protesters threw a chemical substance at the police. The head of the Gaza command, Don Herell(ph), said it was acid. The protesters insisted it was only diesel fuel.

By 8 PM, it was all over. As the moon rose, the exhausted police and soldiers left Kfar Darom. Military officials say they hope the resistance today is the worst they'll see. An Israeli army spokesman said only five of Gaza's 21 settlements remain to be evacuated. Linda Gradstein, NPR News. 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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