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 Joyful Palestinians watch Israeli settlers removed

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PostSubject: Joyful Palestinians watch Israeli settlers removed   Thu 18 Aug Ó 11:38

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Gleeful Palestinians cheered and laughed from rooftops and windows on Wednesday as they watched Israeli troops move into the Gaza Strip to force Jewish settlers from the occupied territory.

"Of course I am happy. I saw at least 500 Israeli soldiers arriving at Tel Katifa to kick settlers out," said 51-year-old Mohammad A-Salqawi, a farmer whose shabby house looks out on the small settlement nearby.


Palestinians paint a wall, in preparation of celebrations to mark the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip, in Gaza August 16, 2005. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadall)
"I will take my land back. I lost greenhouses which were demolished to make room for the settlement," said Salqawi, dressed in a traditional baggy robe. Some of his 16 children scampered nearby to get a better view.

There has been little cause for joy in Gaza since the start of an uprising after talks with Israel failed in 2000. The packed and impoverished territory has been battered by fighting between Israeli troops and militants, its economy broken.

Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians have resented nothing more than the presence of the 8,500 settlers behind walls and razor wire to protect against militant attacks.

Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to "disengage" from the conflict, Israeli troops began forced evacuations on Wednesday. Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.

"I feel like I could fly, I am so happy," said Abu Ahmed, a father of 10 whose house was demolished by Israeli troops during the uprising as he watched from the roof of his new house in Khan Younis, next door to the main settlement of Neve Dekalim.

"PAYBACK TIME"

"Today their houses are being demolished and they are being driven out of Gaza. It is payback time," he said.

Israeli troops have demolished hundreds of buildings during raids into Gaza. The army said they were used for launching attacks.

Hamas militants, who claim the pullout as a victory for the uprising, slapped up posters on Gaza City walls showing a masked gunmen striding across crumbling settlements. Israeli opponents of the pullout also say it rewards violence.

There was little echo of the Gaza celebrations in the West Bank, though, the other occupied territory that Palestinians want for a state.

Palestinians fear that Sharon's plan is a ruse to allow Israel to hold onto its far bigger West Bank settlement blocs. Only four of the 120 settlements there, home to 230,000 Jews, are being removed.

Sharon vows that Israel will keep forever its biggest settlements and Arab East Jerusalem -- which Palestinians want for their capital.

Those areas are steadily being enclosed in a barrier that Israel says stops suicide bombers and Palestinians call a land grab. Israel's attachment to the West Bank, cradle of Jewish history, has always been much greater than to sandy Gaza.

"We shouldn't exaggerate celebrations," said Sameer al-Bakri, a 42-year-old driver in Hebron, where the Jewish settler movement began and hundreds of settlers live at the very heart of the city.

"We're happy for our brothers in Gaza but we can't celebrate because Israel is creating facts on the ground in the West Bank. How can we celebrate a big lie."

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Gaza, Haitham Tamimi in Hebron)

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