About a dozen of the prefabricated homes, which can easily house a family of five and cost thousands of dollars each, were being installed on Thursday in the picturesque Nitzanim Dunes area close to the Mediterranean city of Ashkelon.

 

A number of Gaza Strip settlers travelled to Nitzanim to inspect the new homes - due to house a large chunk of the 8000 Jewish settlers.

 

Ilan Cohen, the director general of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, said 450 of the giant caravans would eventually be installed, 350 of which had already been ordered.

 

Sabotage

 

However, the trailers were initially put up under the cover of darkness to prevent ultra-nationalist opponents of the so-called disengagement plan from sabotaging the buildings.

 

"We decided to do it in a way that would prevent provocations and all sorts of things like that," Cohen told army radio.

 

A Defence Ministry spokeswoman said the Nitzanim caravans came in two sizes - at 60 sq m and 90 sq m - retailing at a maximum of $60,000.

 

Government criticised

 

The government has come under heavy criticism over the lack of preparations for uprooting illegal soldiers and Jewish settlers from all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and another four in the West Bank, starting in mid-August.

 

More than 8000 settlers are to
leave Gaza this summer

The status of the settlers' homes in Gaza has yet to be determined, with the government apparently split over whether they should be demolished or handed over to the Palestinian Authority. 

 

An opinion poll published in the Maariv newspaper found that 34% of respondents believe deadly clashes between radical opponents and security forces are a "high to very high" probability.

 

Another 24% said there was a mid-range probability of fatal clashes, with 35% convinced of a "low to very low" chance of deadly violence.

 

In April, the army began removing non-essential equipment from their bases in Gaza in order to ensure that the 10-week plan to evacuate troops and settlers can proceed as quickly as possible.

 

Israeli and Palestinian security officials met again overnight on Wednesday to discuss preparations for the pullout, in talks both sides described as "positive".