IDF: 50% of settlers will go by Aug. 17

By David Horovitz August 4, 2005

If Palestinian violence continues, army offensive may precede pullout

The army intends to send thousands of soldiers to every settlement in the Gaza Strip on August 15 and 16 in the hope of encouraging about a third of the Strip’s settlers to leave their homes during those 48 hours.

Col. Erez Katz, the officer directly coordinating the pullout, explained to The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that settlers who leave in those first 48 hours, after which it would become illegal for Israelis to stay in the Gaza Strip, would not lose any compensation. At midnight on August 16, however, the disengagement legislation mandates that they lose a significant proportion of their compensation if they remain in Gaza.

‘Our hope is that on August 15 and 16 we will be able to persuade a significant proportion of the settlers to leave,’ Katz said. ‘We will certainly do everything to help them leave in an orderly fashion in the course of those two days. They will have registered their protest by staying on after the [August 15] deadline, and if they leave in those 48 hours they will not lose any of the compensation.’

Asked to estimate what proportion of the settlers he believed would leave, Katz said that he thought 15-20 percent would have gone of their own accord by the formal deadline of midnight on August 14, and that another 35% or so would leave in the course of August 15 and 16.

That would leave about 50% of Gaza’s settlers to be evacuated in the three weeks that the army has tentatively allocated for implementing the pullout starting August 17.

A senior military source said on Wednesday, however, that the level of Palestinian attacks in Gaza was currently so high that disengagement might begin with an IDF offensive to quell that violence. The evacuation of Gaza settlers might be temporarily delayed – by 24, 48 hours or more – until that offensive had ensured relative calm.

The source said that July 2005 had seen more attempted attacks from Gaza on Israeli targets than any other single month in the past five years – some 470 incidents in all. The fact that the army had been relatively successful in thwarting the vast majority of attempts did not detract from the severity of the situation, he said.

Israel’s most senior defense officials, the source said, had made plain to the Palestinian Authority that such an IDF offensive might be unavoidable if the level of such attacks did not fall significantly in the next few days.

The source said that IDF units were already being tentatively assembled should such an offensive be ordered. In the last few days, the level of attempted attacks of one kind or another was running at about 10 a day, and it might well be deemed that disengagement could not be launched amid that level of attempted violence, the source said.

Speaking to the Post during a tour for journalists of Gush Katif, Katz said the army anticipated remaining in the Strip after August 15 for a further month to complete disengagement.

Katz noted that Gaza’s Jewish cemetery, where 48 people were buried, would only be relocated after the last of the residents had gone. He indicated this was in accordance with halacha (Jewish law).

Katz stressed that his estimates on the percentage of settlers who would leave at various stages were somewhat hypothetical because, he noted, a single terror attack could radically change the situation.

He told the Post that the army had a well-developed plan setting out the order in which settlements would be evacuated. He said, however, that the settlers themselves had not been told specific dates and that the order might change at any moment.

Katz indicated to the Post that in the first few days of disengagement, as the plan currently stood, the army’s focus would be on the three settlements in the north of the Gaza Strip – Nisanit, Dugit, and Elei Sinai – and some of the settlements in the Gush Katif bloc.

The largest settlement in Gaza, Neveh Dekalim, would be the focus of the second stage of disengagement, Katz said, again stressing that the plans might change, with the rest of the settlements being evacuated after that.

Katz’s outline comes in contrast to reports Wednesday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to ask the government on Sunday to approve a plan to begin the disengagement process with the evacuation of Gaza’s three isolated settlements: Netzarim in the north, Kfar Darom in the center, and Morag in the south.

Military sources added that as soon as each settlement’s residents had been evacuated, the defense establishment would move in to pack residents’ belongings into containers. From there the containers would be transported out of the Gaza Strip to guarded locations next to army bases in the Negev.

The sources stressed that contents of settlers’ houses that could not be easily removed would be left behind. If, for example, a family that had to be evacuated by the army from August 17 onward had an expensive fitted kitchen, ‘it would be left behind,’ a military source said.

When the contents of each house have been removed, homes will be bulldozed. Public buildings will be left intact. Synagogues, yeshivot, mikvaot, and other religious buildings would be dismantled insofar as possible, including even doors and doorframes, with only the shells to be destroyed, the sources said.

As for military structures inside the Gaza Strip, sources said it had not yet been decided whether the IDF would destroy remaining structures that could not be dismantled and moved outside the Strip or whether these would remain behind.

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