Israel Out Of Two More Settlements

Palestinians gather after being prevented from crossing through a gap in the border wall with Egypt in the Rafah Refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Sept, 17, 2005. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
AP
Israel pulled the last of its troops out of two isolated West Bank settlements Tuesday, completing the final phase of the withdrawal it began in Gaza last month.

As Israeli soldiers left the empty settlements of Ganim and Kadim, next to the West Bank town of Jenin, thousands of Palestinians streamed in, setting fires as gunmen fired in the air reprising the scenes in Gaza after last week's pullout.

Earlier, Israeli forces left two other evacuated West Bank settlements. Unlike Gaza, however, Israeli forces will continue to patrol the area, the military said, as it has not turned over control of the northern West Bank to the Palestinians.

In Gaza, meanwhile, workers put the finishing touches Tuesday on a border crossing between Rafah and Egypt as a top Palestinian security official announced the border would be opened over the weekend to allow some Palestinians to cross.

Israel shut the Rafah crossing before it withdrew from Gaza, saying that people and cargo traveling over the border would be temporarily routed through Israeli-controlled crossings, so it could ensure no weapons or militants entered Gaza.

After the Israeli pullout, the border exploded in chaos, with thousands of Palestinians and Egyptians clamoring over the wall to visit the other side.

After the Gaza-Egypt border was sealed Sunday, the Palestinian Authority renewed calls to open the Rafah crossing and sent construction workers to put a fresh coat of paint on the terminal, lay wiring and install new X-ray machines.

"The Rafah crossing will be ready either today or tomorrow to receive travelers, but we can't operate it alone," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said. "We have the Egyptian side and we need international assistance."

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that despite the renovations, the Palestinians did not plan to open the crossing in the absence of an agreement with Israel.

However, Palestinian National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub said the border would be briefly opened over the weekend to allow Palestinians with special needs to cross.

"We have a pressing issue, which is that of students and those living abroad who are currently in Gaza who hold Palestinian nationality. We will organize their exit Friday and Saturday," he said.