A group of Jewish settlers has returned to Gaza
as Israeli forces begin to demolish houses at the Kfar Darom colony in the central Gaza Strip, witnesses and officials said.
Abd Allah Maani, a resident of the enclosed area of Ma'ani adjacent to Kfar Darom in the town of Dair al-Balah, told Aljazeera.net on Monday that a number of settlers had returned.
He said they had come back by the busload to gather their belongings from the illegal colony and see the houses demolished.
"The same people we have seen in the past are back, in great numbers, packing their things up," said Maani, 35, from his home.
"Nearly all the settlers are back - even the settlement leader. They seem to be dismantling their greenhouses. Each settler came with a busload of workers to help them."
Kamal Abo Msaddir, an assistant to a team of paramedics from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society who were allowed inside the enclave on Monday, confirmed the account.
"At about 10am this morning, we were surprised to see military vehicles and buses transporting Israeli civilians towards Kfar Darom.
"They are still here, in groups guarded by tanks. There are about 150 of them alongside new buses and next to their hothouses. I am looking at them as I speak," said Abo Msaddir, adding that water, food and medicine were in short supply in the Palestinian community.
Kfar Darom's destruction has
"It takes about 48 hours for us to coordinate a humanitarian visit to al-Ma'ani with the Israeli army," said Abo Msaddir.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Aljazeera.net that settlers were "allowed to enter to take their belongings" but was unable to give an exact date for their departure.
One army watchtower has been dismantled, said Maani, though the two main sniper towers guarding the isolated colony are still standing.
Israel is expected to dismantle the military structures by 15 September and redeploy just outside of Gaza's borders.
The community of Ma'ani has been under an Israeli-imposed lockdown for nearly three weeks now, since the start of the disengagement plan. Residents have only been only allowed out for four hours on Saturdays to buy food, Maani said.
The Israeli army has fenced in the small enclave since July 2002, declaring it a closed military zone and preventing all vehicular movement in and out of the area.
Movement for residents and access for international organisations has been extremely restricted.
Kfar Darom, the site of Gaza's first Jewish settlement, is considered a virulent symbol of occupation for the Palestinians.
It was established in Gaza in the mid-1940s, partly abandoned under Egyptian rule and re-established with heightened military fortifications after Israel conquered the territory in 1967.