The training ground, at a desert military base, was a mock Arab village initially built to train Israeli security forces in urban warfare against Palestinian resistance fighters.

Some of the police and soldiers on Tuesday played the role of settlers who were carried out of homes, each by a team of four. The "settlers" were put on a bus parked nearby, while other troops formed a cordon around houses being evacuated to prevent protesters from slipping back in.

Commanders said Tuesday that about 50,000 police and soldiers will participate in the removal of 9000 settlers - 8500 in Gaza and 500 in four small settlements in the northern West Bank.

Possible fire

The forcible evacuation is to start on 17 August and last about three weeks. Security forces will be deployed in several circles, with about 14,000 police and soldiers directly involved in the removal of settlers and the remainder protecting the frontline forces from possible Palestinian fire and securing the access roads to Gaza, where anti-pullout demonstrators are expected to stage rallies.

Each settler family will be evacuated by a 17-member force, the police commander of the operation, Haggai Dotan, said at the start of Tuesday's drill.

About 50,000 troops and police will
participate in the removal

"We will come early in the mornings to introduce ourselves, not say why we are there, but rather how we are going to carry out the evacuation," he said.

Yael Hartmann, an army spokeswoman, said the troops removing the settlers will not carry guns or batons but will have non-lethal means, such as water cannons.

Separation of the sexes

It remains unclear whether settlers will hand over their weapons, many of them army issue, before the withdrawal, or whether they will be disarmed by the security forces.

Each unit will have several female officers to remove settler women, many of whom are religious and observe a strict separation of the sexes.

Settlers who climb onto rooftops to evade the security forces will be dragged into containers dangling from cranes, military officials said. Once a house has been emptied, the settlers' belongings will be packed into boxes and removed by private companies.

"This is very sensitive for us and a very different mission from what we have previously trained for," Major General Yiftah Rontal, the commander of the army's ground forces, said of the removal of settlers.

Resistance and compensation

Initially, settler leaders said there would be large-scale resistance to the withdrawal. However, government officials have said nearly half of the settler families have in the meantime sought compensation, suggesting that a growing number would leave voluntarily.

"We will come early in the mornings to introduce ourselves, not say why we are there, but rather how we are going to carry out the evacuation"

Haggai Dotan,
police commander

"We estimate that most of the population will leave ... before the 17th," said Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was watching Tuesday's drill.

Security officials are most concerned about hundreds of withdrawal opponents, including extremists, who have sneaked into the Gaza Strip in recent days to reinforce the settlers.

Settler leaders on Tuesday were quoted as saying they would stage protest marches in Israel next week to tie up the security forces.

The mock village at the Zeelim base was spread out over flat desert terrain and surrounded by wire fence. About 5000 security forces will train at Zeelim this week and 7000 next week. In August, another drill will be held at an Israeli communal farm that more closely resembles a Gaza settlement.

Jews in Muslim quarter

In other developments Tuesday: Jerusalem planning authorities have authorized construction of a Jewish neighborhood in the Muslim quarter of the Old City, a plan liable to inflame tensions with the Palestinians, the Maariv newspaper reported.

Palestinians object to Jewish expansion in the eastern sector of the city, which they claim as the capital of a future state.

City councilman Pepe Alalo said the plan is to build 30 apartments and a synagogue in the Muslim quarter, Maariv said. The plan must be still be approved by regional planners.

"We estimate that most of the population will leave ... before the 17th".

Shaul Mofaz 
Israeli defense minister 

The Palestinian Authority has set dates for final rounds of local elections that are being watched as a barometer of the rising power of Hamas movement and the decline of the ruling Fatah party.

The most significant round of local voting is to take place on 8 December in the cities of Nablus, al-Khalil (Hebron), Khan Yunis and Gaza City.

Gesher, a group devoted to dialogue between religious and secular Jews in Israel, has set up a hotline for callers interested in discussing the Gaza pullout.

The withdrawal plan has created a rift in Israel society and has provoked fears that some opponents will turn to violence in an effort to derail it.