"There will be a delay of four weeks, one month after the evacuation during which we will not allow the Palestinians to enter," Mofaz said on Tuesday.

"Our decision has been made to create a better security, economic and political reality, and to allow a future political process," he added.

The minister said the Israeli authorities would determine the next stage of the historic pullout process at midnight local time, when a 48-hour grace period for all settlers to leave their homes voluntarily will expire.

Undisclosed procedure

The order in which the 21 settlements in Gaza are to be evacuated is to be kept secret until the last moment for security reasons, but Mofaz stressed the entire operation would be "carried out in the shortest time possible".

"The shorter the better," he said, warning settlers and their supporters not to hinder the operation as the deadline to the start of the forcible evacuation period ticked down.

"We will do everything in our power to maintain order and those who break the law will be dealt with in the appropriate manner"

Shaul Mofaz,
Israeli Defence Minister 

"From today, anyone who interferes with the evacuation will be arrested," he said, insisting that "calm will be upheld".

"We will do everything in our power to maintain order and those who break the law will be dealt with in the appropriate manner.

"To my great regret, there are opponents of the withdrawal who have infiltrated and who want to prevent from leaving those who want to," he said.

Calling the settlers "very wise, intelligent and responsible," Mofaz doubted that they would provoke violence during the evacuation.

"We do not think they will raise a hand against soldiers and police officers. We think that the proportion of people who want to leave voluntarily is high," he said.