NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza – Thousands of Israeli police and soldiers moments ago entered the largest community in Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish neighborhoods to inform residents they must leave within the next few hours or they will be removed forcibly.
The troops were greeted by families singing and holding celebrations.
At the same time, a tense standoff is ensuing between evacuation forces and protesters who have barricaded themselves inside a building.
Just before the troop deployment, hundreds of residents here temporarily put their packing aside and were holding celebrations and dedicating Torah scrolls in the main Dekalim synagogue. Rabbis were reciting prayers, giving speeches calling for peace and praying for Gush Katif.
“Fighting is not the Jewish way,” said one local rabbi on a loudspeaker. “We are about to embark on a difficult journey. Let’s keep our spirits up.”
Israeli soldiers enter home of celebrating Jewish family in Gaza (photo: WND)
Those inside the synagogue were surprised to find about 3,000 Israeli police officers had breached the entrance to their community and were marching toward their celebration. Still more officers were streaming in.
Residents quickly went back to their homes. Families here each started singing in their private dining rooms. Loud song could be heard coming from homes as groups of soldiers began going house-to-house to warn residents they must leave immediately leave.
Wild celebrations are breaking out inside and outside houses.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Yesha settlers council earlier had directed teenage protesters to a building adjacent to the synagogue, telling them to bring food and supplies and to barricade themselves inside. Hundreds of protesters showed up with sleeping bags, boxes of food and cinder blocks to keep troops out.
About 7,000 protesters are in Katif in an attempt to halt the withdrawal.
Close to 1,000 troops quickly took positions surrounding the protesters’ new housing. Hundreds of other protesters still are positioned in strategic locations throughout Dekalim. Teenage protest leaders told WND they have plans to start mayhem tonight. Already some protests are breaking out.
Brig. Gen. Eival Giladi, withdrawal coordinator at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, told reporters the troop buildup in Dekalim was to drive home to residents they must depart before midnight local time.
Families who do not leave by tonight’s deadline will be removed forcibly. About 17 to 20 officers per Katif home will be used to physically drag occupants onto waiting buses and out of the area.