Addressing a crowd of supporters from his ruling Fatah party at the mothballed Palestinian airport in southern Gaza on Friday, Abbas hailed the end of Israel's occupation of Gaza as "the fruit of Palestinian sacrifice".

 

"We want on this occasion to pay homage to our martyrs, to our prisoners, to our wounded and all those among our people who have made sacrifices," he said.

 

Earlier in the day, Israeli troops pushed through burning barricades and dragged screaming protesters from the Gadid settlement synagogue in an assault on one of the last pockets of defiance to evacuation from the Gaza Strip.

 

Diehard settlers took to rooftops in the tiny enclave shouting "Nazis" as forces swept in on Friday, hours after clearing Gaza's main settlements of Kfar Darom and Neve Dekalim.

 

First step

 

During his speech on Friday, the Palestinian leader reiterated calls for his people to bolster the case for independence by refraining from violence. 
 
"This step is only the first step that will be completed in Jenin and in the West Bank and in Jerusalem God willing," Abbas said, reiterating his demand that Israel make further pullbacks.

   

With the latest poll confirming solid support among the Israeli public for the pullout, troops rushed to wrap up their toughest tasks before the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset.

   

Marching past flaming cars, unarmed riot troops surrounded Gadid's synagogue and forced their way in as 90 protesters, mostly radical youths who had locked themselves inside, lay on the floor. Some prayed. Others cried or shouted abuse.

   

In what has become a familiar scene this week, police wrestled them out one by one and carried them to waiting buses - as they had in raids on two other enclaves on Thursday.  

 

Many of Gadid's 350 residents had already left but a few families and dozens of protesters remained, in defiance of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

   

Columns of black smoke rose from piles of burning tyres and debris as security forces took up position around the settlement's synagogue, where about 25 settlers and supporters were barricaded inside.

Main strongholds

Earlier, the Israeli army said it has completed evacuation of Kfar Darom and Neve Dekalim, the main strongholds of defiance to the Gaza pullout.


Security forces stormed synagogues in both settlements on Thursday, dragging off settlers and their supporters attempting to obstruct Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for giving up settlements on land where Palestinians seek a state.

 

Israeli forces cleared Kfar Darom
settlement on Thursday

The army said 1850 Israelis were evacuated from Neve Dekalim and 655 from Kfar Darom.

 

"The armed forces and the Israel police will continue the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank communities with sensitivity and determination," the army said in a statement.

 

Under Sharon's plan for "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians, Israel will give up all 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank.

 

Palestinians have welcomed the withdrawals, but fear Israel intends to strengthen its hold on bigger West Bank settlements.

 

Injuries

The clearing of Kfar Darom and Neve Dekalim was a huge challenge for the Israeli forces assigned to evict Jewish settlers. 

 

Clashes between settlers and security forces trying to clear them injured 44 people earlier on Thursday.

Among them were 27 police officers and three soldiers who were trying to remove settlers holed up at a synagogue and on the roof of a building at Kfar Darom.


"What we saw here crossed all boundaries," said the army officer in charge, Dan Harel. "Everybody who was now on the roof will be arrested and put in jail."

 

By Thursday night, Israeli forces said they had cleared 14 of 21 Jewish settlements in the strip.

 

UN praise

 

"[Kofi Annan] believes that a successful disengagement should be the first step towards a resumption of the peace process"

Stephane Dujarric,
spokesman for the UN chief

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday commended Sharon for his courage and leadership in going through with his plan to pull out of Gaza.

 

"If there is to be peace in the Middle East, it will require leadership, vision and the willingness of leaders on both sides to make sacrifices for the greater good.

 

"In this context, the secretary-general commends the courageous decision of Prime Minister Sharon to carry through with the painful process of disengagement from the Gaza Strip and part of the northern West Bank," his chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. 

 

"The secretary-general hopes that both Palestinians and
Israelis will exercise restraint in this challenging period," he added.

 

Annan "believes that a successful disengagement should be the first step towards a resumption of the peace process," in line with the road map to peace set out by the quartet of international mediators -- the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States, Dujarric said.

 

Annan also encouraged Palestinian leaders to show their
commitment to peace and security "by establishing the rule of
law in Gaza following the withdrawal", Dujarric said in a statement. 

 

He also condemned a Wednesday attack in which a Jewish settler in the West Bank grabbed a gun from a security guard
and killed four Palestinian labourers, calling it "a terror attack", Annan's spokesman said. 

 

Intimidation

Hamas has vowed to continue
resisting Israeli occupation

In the West Bank on Thursday, an assailant shot at the car of a senior Hamas leader in what he called an attempt to intimidate the Islamic group for its vow to continue fighting Israel.

 

The shooting at Hassan Youssef's car came against a backdrop of growing insecurity as well as intensifying rivalry between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' dominant Fatah movement, which favours negotiations with the Jewish state.

 

Youssef, who was not in the car at the time, said his bodyguard shot the assailant and appeared to have hit him.

Witnesses said one round hit the door of Youssef's vehicle.

 

The Hamas leader did not directly blame any group or country - including Israel - for the shooting but called it "an attempt to silence us since we are still talking about resistance".

 

Hamas, unlike Abbas, is sworn to destroying Israel rather than negotiating for a Palestinian state alongside it.

 

Fatah officials said Fatah, which includes armed resistance factions, had no links to the shooting.

Hamas has largely followed a six-month-old truce with Israel to allow Tel Aviv to carry out its withdrawal from Gaza settlements.

 

It is expected to do well in January parliamentary elections, the first it will contest.

 

Israel has made clear that it will not discuss Palestinian statehood unless groups such as Hamas are disarmed.