STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're following some other major stories this morning, including Israel's preparations to pull out from Gaza. The Israeli army has issued official letters of evacuation to settlers there. Opponents of the withdrawal say they have infiltrated supporters into the settlements and the Defense Ministry says it is concerned that a number of soldiers have gone AWOL with their weapons. To talk about this and other developments, we've contacted NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.
And, Linda, first these letters, these eviction letters, what do they say?
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Well, they say that at midnight on August 14th, the presence of Israeli civilians in the Gaza Strip will become illegal. The letters say that on August 15th, the soldiers will come to the homes of the Jewish settlers in Gaza and officially present them with evacuation orders, and that if they agree to leave by midnight of the 16th, that the soldiers and the moving companies will help them pack their belongings. Military officials said the purpose of the letters is to persuade settlers to leave their homes as soon as possible and that, starting on the 17th, the residents will be forcibly evicted from their homes, and they will lose some of their government compensation package as well, and they will not be allowed back to pack their belongings. The army will pack for them.
INSKEEP: Well, we know from your reporting, among others, that many people say they're not going to leave. Now when you say `forcibly evicted,' how much force is the Israeli military prepared to use in this situation?
GRADSTEIN: The soldiers and the police are going in unarmed. And the settlers in some of the settlements have already turned over their army-issued weapons. So the hope is not to have to use force. When they say forcibly, they mean that teams of police and soldiers will go in and take people by the arms and legs and carry them out. And most settlers say that they have no intention of actually using force, but they will use, you know, what they call passive resistance.
INSKEEP: How many people might stay?
GRADSTEIN: Well, the question is also how many people are there? There are about 1,600 families who actually live in Gaza, somewhere between 8,500 and 9,000 people. Of those, about a hundred families have already left, and another several hundred are expected to leave between now and the 14th. The army estimates that about half of the families, 700 families, will refuse to leave until they're actually forcibly evicted. There's also the question of how many people have infiltrated over the past few weeks. The representatives of Jewish settlers say that 4,000 people, mostly teen-agers, have gotten in, have slipped in. The army says those numbers are exaggerated.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about these missing soldiers for a moment. Of course, it was a soldier who went AWOL with his weapon who was blamed for killing a number of people on a bus in a terrible situation a number of days ago. How many more soldiers are out there? And what is known about their movements?
GRADSTEIN: Yesterday, the defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said that several hundred soldiers have actually gone AWOL in the past few months but that nine soldiers have gone AWOL with their weapons. When he was asked by one of the members of parliament, you know, are any of them similar to this 19-year-old, Eden Natan Zada, who killed the four Israeli Arabs on a bus in an Israeli-Arab town last week, he said, `I just don't know.' So it's not clear who these guys are and what their intentions are.
INSKEEP: Although it sounds like if they showed up in the settlements with their weapons, people there would not necessarily agree.
GRADSTEIN: People might not necessarily agree. The question is whether one person can really derail this whole thing. I mean, there are now army roadblocks and it's gotten more difficult to get into the settlements, although the settler leaders say people are still managing to get in by using fake IDs and hiding in the trunks of cars and all these kinds of things. Another thing that we need to watch is that on Saturday night and Sunday, which is a Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the temple, tens of thousands of people say they're going to go to the Western Wall and some of them have said they're going to try to storm the holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, and that there could also at the same time be violence there.
INSKEEP: Thanks. That's NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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