Gaza Pullout Nearly Complete

Israeli troops look at a bulldozer demolishing a house in the Jewish settlement of Peat Sadeh, in the southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2005.
AP
Bulldozers razed homes in two Gaza settlements Sunday, and thousands of troops poured into four other enclaves in the final phase of removing settlers from the coastal strip. Forces were met by blazing barricades, pleading settlers and a mock cemetery built "for anyone who expels Jews from their homes."

Some settlers pleaded with the troops to leave them alone, with others left quietly weeping.

As of Sunday evening, the Israeli army said it had cleared 20 of 21 Gaza settlements.

A senior Defense Ministry official says all 21 Gaza settlements will be razed within two weeks, about half the time previously predicted.

In the West Bank, security forces skirmished with some of the thousands of ultra-nationalists defending two northern settlements, who the army fears may use weapons when troops begin evicting their residents, most likely on Tuesday.

Dozens of settlers raced toward troops setting up a staging area near the settlement of Sanur, slashed tires of military vehicles and exchanged blows with the soldiers, in a prelude to what could be the most difficult mission of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan. Ten police officers were slightly injured.

In Nissanit, cranes lifted up prefabricated homes and placed them on flatbed trucks, to be driven to Israel. Piles of rubble lined the settlement's main street. More houses were leveled in the settlement of Dugit. Last week, mobile homes were destroyed at the Kerem Atzmona outpost, but Sunday's demolitions marked the first time stone houses were taken down.

The amputation of Gaza from Israel, though painful, was far less bloody than expected, CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins reports. The one casualty may be Israel's settler movement, which has kept the country entrenched in the West Bank and Gaza for decades.

In comments at the start of a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called acts of violent resistance to the pullout "hooliganism" and said Jewish settler leaders, once his friends and allies, were exploiting the suffering of their followers to push a political agenda.

The forcible removal of settlers in 21 Gaza communities began Wednesday, more than a year after Sharon concluded that Israel could no longer defend its 38-year-old occupation of the coastal strip, which Palestinians claim as part of a future state. The evacuations have proceeded with relatively little violence.

Katif, Atzmona and Slav, the remaining communities in the main settlement bloc, Gush Katif, were being emptied on Sunday, as was the northern Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai.

The last of the 21 Gaza settlements, Netzarim, is to be evacuated Monday, with the entire Gaza evacuation compressed into just one week, far shorter than the three weeks security forces foresaw.