Israeli soldiers moved to clear settlements in the Gaza Strip as part of the evacuation of land in Gaza and the West Bank.
The most tense day was Thursday, when more than 1,000 Israelis made a defiant stand in the synagogues of two Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, confronting their own soldiers with rudimentary arsenals of household items in a final attempt to prevent their evacuation from land they believe was promised to them by God.
In perhaps the most dramatic moment of the highly unusual military operation, Israeli troops stormed the synagogue in Kfar Darom over the course of a sweltering afternoon.
Using water cannons and cranes, Israeli forces broke through barricades of tables lashed together with rope, coils of razor wire and a hail of rocks, paint-filled light bulbs and what military officials said was acid thrown by scores of settlers holding out on the roof. Dozens of commandos, climbing ladders and being lowered onto the roof inside shipping containers, took more than three hours to clear the building.
The operation paused Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and will conclude within a few days. The Israeli military will then begin demolishing more than 2,000 homes and public buildings in the territory, where 8,500 Jewish settlers have lived among 1.3 million Palestinians in the years since Israel seized the land in the 1967 Middle East war. The plan also calls for the evacuation of four settlements in the West Bank, which the Palestinians envision as part of a future state along with Gaza.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, once a major supporter of settlements, has pushed the withdrawal plan at great political expense. He has said he believes that quitting Gaza would leave Israel with more defensible borders and a stronger Jewish majority, which is now threatened by the fast-growing Arab population in the territories.
-- Scott Wilson