Dispute Mars Gaza Handover

An Israeli bulldozer dismantles a building before the evacuation of the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom in the central Gaza strip Sunday.
AP
Israel's Cabinet voted Sunday to end military rule over the Gaza Strip after 38 years of occupation, but the final phase of the historic pullout was marred by bitter disputes with the Palestinians over border arrangements and the future status of the impoverished coastal territory.

Israel canceled a military handover ceremony set for Sunday afternoon after the Palestinians said they would not attend. The Palestinians said they were staying away to protest against Israel's closure last week of vital Gaza border crossing and a last-minute decision by the Cabinet on Sunday not to demolish about two dozen synagogues in abandoned Jewish settlements in Gaza.

"They throw these two problems in our faces, and it's really unfair," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The Palestinian Authority will destroy the synagogues left behind by evacuating Israeli troops, a Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman said Sunday, hours after the Israeli Cabinet voted not to demolish the synagogues.

All remaining buildings in the evacuated Jewish settlements will be destroyed except for the greenhouses, the spokesman, Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, told The Associated Press.

The Palestinians have expressed dismay at the Israeli Cabinet decision, saying it puts them in an impossible position because they may be criticized for destroying houses of worship but at the same time they need the space for their development plans for post-Israel Gaza.

Israel says it is ending its military occupation of Gaza on Monday when the last Israeli soldiers are to leave. However, the Palestinians say Israel will continue to control Gaza's airspace, territorial waters and border passages, and this essentially means the occupation has not ended.

"As long as the border crossing is closed, we consider Gaza still occupied," said Sufian Abu Zaydeh, a Palestinian Cabinet minister.