Israel: Gaza troop pullout by Monday

The Israeli army will complete its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on Monday, three days ahead of schedule, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has said.

    Shaul Mofaz: As of Monday no Israeli soldier will remain in Gaza

    Israel Radio reported that the army was demolishing on Friday its liaison office in Gaza and a bridge leading to a bloc of Jewish settlements.
    "According to the plan I authorised yesterday ... on Monday the 12th of the month no Israeli army soldier will remain in the boundaries of the Gaza Strip," Mofaz told Israel's Army Radio on Friday.
    Mofaz's statement indicates the army will also complete a pullout from a volatile Gaza-Egypt patrol road. Israel was originally scheduled to complete its withdrawal on 15 September.
    The only thing that can delay the pullout is a dispute over whether to destroy the synagogues still standing in the Jewish settlements evacuated last month, Mofaz said, adding that he is opposed to demolishing the synagogues.
    Israel's Supreme Court lifted on Thursday an order barring the army from demolishing the synagogues. The cabinet is to decide on Sunday on whether to demolish the holy buildings, Mofaz said, adding that he will vote against the destruction.


    The Israeli army on Friday imposed a curfew on the Palestinian village of Bilin, the site of weekly demonstrations against Israel's controversial West Bank barrier, provoking bitter clashes with protestors.


    Dozens of Palestinians, Israeli and international peace activists threw stones at Israeli troops who rolled into the village at dawn and declared a curfew, witnesses and an army spokeswoman said.


    Troops responded with tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes that left three Palestinians injured, witnesses said.

    Teenager shot

    The previous day, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, hospital and security sources said.

    The Israelis say they are working
    on a new border deal with Egypt

    Eighteen-year-old Bashir Sufi was fatally wounded in the chest and

    abdomen on Thursday by soldiers who were guarding the now empty Gaza settlement of Atsmona which lies close to the crossing into Egypt, the sources added.


    An Israeli military spokeswoman said troops fired towards three Palestinians who were trying to infiltrate the security fence around Atsmona, but did not confirm whether any had been hit.


    Sufi was the second Palestinian teenager shot dead in two days by Israeli troops guarding the abandoned Jewish settlements in southern Gaza.

    Crossing closed

    In another development, Israel closed the vital Gaza-Egypt border crossing on Thursday for a period of at least six months, infuriating Palestinians who say the move will prevent free travel out of the Gaza Strip.

    Palestinian officials say Israel
    has unilaterally shut down Rafah 

    The closing of the Rafah terminal intensified an argument between Israel and the Palestinians over control of the border, just days before Israel is to turn over the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control.

    Israel said the closure would allow a smooth withdrawal of its remaining troops in Gaza early next week, including those stationed on the volatile border area.

    The six-month period will be used to build a new terminal at Rafah and arrange security details at the crossing, Israeli officials said.

    In the meantime, Palestinians will be able to travel to Egypt through Kerem Shalom, an alternate three-way border point, that will be ready in the middle of next week, an Israeli Ports Authority official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

    But the Palestinians said Israel unilaterally shut down Rafah.

    No guarantee

    Cabinet minister Ghassan Khatib, who attended a late-night meeting with Israeli officials at a Jordanian Dead Sea resort, said Israel also refused to guarantee that Rafah - the main artery in and out of the Gaza Strip- would be reopened in six months.

    "They [Israeli's] want to get out of Rafah, but they don't want to leave us the freedom of movement"

    Ghassan Khatib,
    Palestinian minister

    "They want to get out of Rafah, but they don't want to leave us the freedom of movement," Khatib said, adding that Israeli officials said it would take at least a month to get Kerem Shalom ready for the movement of people.

    At Kerem Shalom, Israel will oversee security and passage of people, a main concern for Gazans, who sometimes have to wait weeks and even months to travel abroad due to Israeli security restrictions.
    The Palestinians do not want any Israeli presence at the crossing after the pullout, but Israel says it wants to ensure that no arms or fighters enter Gaza.

    European observers?

    The sides have been discussing putting foreign monitors at the crossing, but no official agreement has been reached. Two officials close to the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity said Israel has agreed in principle to posting European observers at the crossing.

    Jewish settlements in Gaza were
    demolished as part of the pullout

    Asaf Shariv, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel has agreed to an Egyptian proposal to build a new terminal at Rafah. In the meantime, he said, goods and people will move through Kerem Shalom.

    In six months, people will travel through Rafah and goods will be transferred through Kerem Shalom, Shariv said.

    No final decision has been made on whether international monitors will be allowed to oversee the crossing, Shariv
    said. "There are many options. This is what will be decided in the next six months," he said, adding that in any case, Israel does not want to be present at the crossing.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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