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Gaza pullout to resume Sunday

Israel: No injuries after Palestinian militants fire mortars



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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces are to resume the forced evacuation of Jewish communities in Gaza on Sunday -- after a 24-hour pause Saturday.

Two Gaza settlements -- Atzmona and Katif -- are scheduled for eviction Sunday before Netzarim is emptied on Monday. A fourth settlement Elei Sinai has not been formally cleared but is reported to be empty.

The pullout -- an emotional turning point for Israelis -- was implemented by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and while opinion polls show a majority support the plan, the pullback has angered settlers.

Some settlers don't want to leave because they believe Gaza is part of the traditional Jewish homeland. Some say the move rewards terrorists and will lead to more attacks from Palestinian terrorists.

Israel also will withdraw its troops from Gaza.

On Saturday, Palestinian militants fired a mortar round that damaged a greenhouse in the Israeli community of Netiv Ha'asara, just north of Gaza, Israeli military officials said.

Overnight, militants fired two mortar rounds in and near Gaza, which caused no damage or injuries, officials said.

One shell landed near an army post abutting the settlement of Neve Dekalim in southern Gaza and another landed near the Israeli community of Nahal Oz, just east of Gaza, the officials said.

Police said Friday that 85 percent of Gaza's 8,500 or so Jewish settlers have been evacuated. It was unknown how many, if any, protesters who had entered Gaza in advance of the pullout remained.

"It's been a very successful, albeit extremely painful mission this week," Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Capt. Yael Hartman said.

Sharon announced the plan in December 2003 in hopes of reinvigorating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Protesters in Gadid agreed to leave peacefully but insisted on being led or carried out one-by-one as a symbolic protest.

Palestinians election date set

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas confirmed Saturday that Palestinian legislative elections will be held January 25. (Full story)

The elections initially were set for July but Abbas postponed them, wanting to have them after Israel evacuated all Gaza settlements and four settlements in the West Bank.

On Friday Abbas told a cheering crowd that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza was "the fruits of sacrifices" of Palestinians.

"My brothers, we are living these days in historical joy, a great joy, with the dismantling of settlements out of the Gaza Strip," Abbas said.

"This exit of the settlers is the result of sacrifices of our people, the patience of our people ... and the wisdom of our people."

Palestinian leaders have long criticized Sharon's disengagement plan, saying it was wrong for Israel to take such a step unilaterally rather than through negotiations. Recently, Palestinian leaders have expressed hope for the plan.

Abbas said the most important task for Palestinians is to build a successful, productive society in Gaza "so it will become a model of civilization for the rest of the world."

Settlements remain

As Abbas spoke, Israel Defense Forces announced it was building ditches to separate the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif from Palestinian areas "to prevent Palestinians from entering the communities of Gush Katif during the disengagement process."

The evacuations, which began Wednesday, had been expected to last up to three weeks. But Israeli officials said this week that, at their current pace, evacuations from Gaza could be completed by Tuesday.

Israel has controlled Gaza, a 140-square-mile piece of coastal land between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israeli settlers in Gaza lived separated from a Palestinian population of 1.3 million.

The evacuations of all 21 settlements in Gaza and four small areas of the West Bank are an effort to restart the peace process with Palestinians. The pullout is the largest peacetime operation in Israel's military history.

Settlers were offered compensation packages ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 per family, but those who remained beyond a Monday deadline and a 48-hour grace period stand to lose up to a third of their amount.

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