Region Braces for Protests as Gaza Pullout Nears

By Monday, 8,000 Israeli settlers must leave Gaza by order of the Israeli government. The decision is aimed at helping restore peace to a region torn by conflict, but protests and resistance are anticipated.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In just two days, Israel begins its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, pulling out 8,000 settlers. This is the first time that Israel has ceded land won during the Six Day War, which some had claimed is biblical Israel. NPR's Mike Shuster joins us from Tel Aviv.

Michael, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL SHUSTER reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And have some people already begun to leave?

SHUSTER: In fact, some hundreds of settlers have been leaving over the last few days. There are a couple of settlements in--that are isolated in the extreme north of the Gaza Strip that are all but empty. Shops and markets have begun closing down. They're running out of food--staples, that kind of thing. But at the same time, it's been reported--the Israeli army says at least 3,000 infiltrators have gotten into Gaza. These are supporters of the settlers from around Israel who want to resist the evacuation.

SIMON: Well, tell us what you can about what preparations the Israeli army and security forces have been making to remove or contain and isolate resisters.

SHUSTER: They've been training their troops for six months, and they're seizing control of all the roads around Gaza, the roads that lead in and out of Gaza, and eventually they're going to send in hundreds of teams of 17 soldiers and police each to remove those families and individuals that are going to resist. That's going to start taking place on Wednesday. Before that, on Monday and Tuesday, they're going to send their troops around to give all the settlers who are still there formal written notice that they have to be out by Wednesday.

SIMON: And Palestinian reaction?

SHUSTER: Well, the Palestinians are quite uneasy about this, and I'd say confused, as well. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Palestinian role. It's quite chaotic in Gaza. There have been somewhat rowdy celebrations already--in Gaza City, 10,000 or so demonstrators yesterday. But the Palestinian Authority has been trying to assert its control over the process from the Palestinian side, and it's not entirely clear that they can. They've also been training police and military to go in there afterwards. But it's entirely unclear what it's going to look like from the Palestinian side once the settlers are removed.

SIMON: And, Michael, let me ask you about Prime Minister Sharon. A lot of settlers at one point had seen him as essentially their patron in government--in previous Israel governments when he expanded some of the settlements. Now he's the prime minister who decides that they must be removed in the greater interests of the state. What's his position with the settlers this week?

SHUSTER: Well, Ariel Sharon essentially came to the conclusion a year and a half ago that it was no longer feasible to defend Gaza and maintain the level of security in Israel proper that he and the military thought was necessary. And the settlers view him as having stabbed him in the back. Of course, he was the supporter of the settler movement for 25 years. He gave an interview to one of the Israeli newspapers on Friday in which he said he had no regrets, but he seemed to suggest that he didn't expect this level of resistance when he said, `Had I known there would be this much resistance, I would have pursued the policy anyway.'

SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster in Tel Aviv. Thanks very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Scott.

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