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Israel empties Gaza's Gadid settlement

Palestinian president: Pullout 'fruits of sacrifices'



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GADID, Gaza (CNN) -- Israeli forces working to evacuate Jewish settlements in Gaza reached a deal with protesters and emptied the Gadid settlement on Friday before pausing the operation for the Jewish Sabbath.

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

Police said 85 percent of Gaza's approximately 8,500 Jewish settlers have been evacuated. It was unknown how many 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.

The pullout -- an emotional turning point for Israelis -- is scheduled to resume Sunday.

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

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.

Palestinians hail pullout

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday 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 "in order 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 could be completed by Monday or Tuesday.

After Gadid, four Gaza settlements remain to be evacuated: Netzarim, Atzmona, Slav and Katif.

The Israeli Cabinet has not yet approved the evacuation of three others -- Dugit, Elei Sinai and Nissanit -- but the Israeli military said residents of those settlements generally already have left on their own.

The Cabinet is expected to meet Sunday to approve evacuation of those three settlements and four others in the West Bank.

Most of Gadid's residents, about 350, left on their own, officials said. About six families were thought to remain, but by Friday afternoon they had either left or were in the process of doing so.

Arriving troops found the settlement's main gate -- intended to shield residents from Palestinian militants -- locked, and tires and other objects in flames.

At one point on Friday, some protesters who had perched themselves on the roof of a synagogue came under fire from Palestinian militants.

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.

Jailed protesters

On Thursday, the Gaza Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom was the scene of one of the most dramatic protests since forced evacuations began a day earlier.

Protesters resisted evacuation from the roof of a synagogue by throwing paint, vegetables and other projectiles against a water cannon used by Israeli forces. (Full story)

Police said Friday that 240 violent protesters had been arrested on Thursday -- about 100 of them under age 18. All remained in jail as of Friday night, police said.

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