Israeli police and soldiers swept aside resistance at two Jewish settlements in the West Bank on Tuesday in the final act of a historic withdrawal from 25 settlements the government maintained for decades as an expression of its vision of a Jewish state in land also claimed by Palestinians.
Coming just one day after the last of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip was cleared, the swift closing of four remote settlements on the West Bank meant that in nine days, security forces accomplished a painful task that Israeli officials had warned could take weeks.
Since his initial proposal 18 months ago to "disengage" from Palestinians in Gaza and the northern end of the West Bank, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has weathered intense opposition from within the settler movement that he once championed. Though polls indicated a majority of Israelis supported the Gaza pullout, large numbers of religious Jews opposed withdrawal from any part of the land they believe was promised to them by God in the Bible.
Unlike Gaza, where settlement land is being turned over the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank settlements will be razed but remain under Israeli military control. Nissan Slomiansky, a member of parliament from the National Religious Party, said pro-settlement activists would make efforts "to take back these areas."
-- By Karl Vick and Samuel Sockol