A day after the pullout, Palestinian security forces tried to stop scavengers streaming into the enclaves as bulldozers began to clear away a vast swath of rubble from settler houses razed by departing soldiers.

 

"The nightmare is over, the occupation has gone and Gaza is now without settlers... Today we begin the work of rebuilding," Qureia told Palestinians in Neve Dekalim, the site of what had been Israel's largest settlement in Gaza.

 

He urged the hundreds of people pouring into the area to celebrate Israel's pullout to stop stripping synagogues and greenhouses of building materials and equipment left behind by Israelis after 38 years of occupation.

 

"You won't profit from a pillar, plastic tubing or pieces of wood that you are taking. Protect them because they are yours."

 

After generally standing by and at times even joining the wild celebrations, Palestinian security men acted on Tuesday to rein in the chaos, controlling entry and exit from settlements and confiscating scavengers' plastic piping and other items.

 

Clear up

 

In Neve Dekalim, bulldozers cleared away chunks of concrete from former settler homes that had been razed by departing soldiers and were blocking some roads in south Gaza.

 

Bulldozers continue the clear up
in southern Gaza

In central Gaza, police bulldozed the shell of a synagogue in the former Netzarim settlement. The synagogue was one of several torched after the pullout by Palestinian youths who saw them as symbols of the hated occupation.

 

Israel's parliament convened in a special session in Jerusalem for lawmakers to vent their anger at the fate of the synagogues, which they saw as counterproductive to any future Middle East peacemaking.

 

Palestinians were furious when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet decided to leave the synagogues intact.

 

Sharon was under pressure from rabbis whose support he could need in a struggle with rightist foes for control of his Likud Party before the next general election, due in 2006.

 

Renaming in Gaza

 

Qureia said Palestinians would keep the names of the vacated Gaza settlements for now, "until we agree on renaming them".

 

Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassan Khatib said farmers had also begun to replant in greenhouses left by Israelis. "We have to start working to help people earn a living," he said.

 

The 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank dismantled last month were the first uprooted on territory that Israel captured from Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want for a state.

 

Softened image

 

Removing Gaza's 8500 settlers and 500 more from a corner of the West Bank has won Sharon international plaudits that have somewhat softened his long time image abroad as an intransigent hardliner towards Palestinians and the Arab world.

 

Sharon is to hold talks with world
leaders including George Bush 

He has seized the opportunity to widen Israel's diplomatic acceptance by heading to the United Nations for a rare speech to the General Assembly on Thursday and talks with world leaders including US President George Bush.

 

"Sharon will say: 'What I said I was going to accomplish, I accomplished - the disengagement. This offers an opportunity to the Palestinians and it's their turn now," said a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

 

Disarmament

 

Sharon has ruled out resuming talks on Palestinian statehood, which broke down five years ago, unless President Mahmoud Abbas disarms armed groups. Abbas and Sharon agreed to a ceasefire in February.

 

Palestinians have welcomed the Israeli withdrawal but fear Sharon is trading Gaza - home to 1.4 million Palestinians - for a permanent hold on larger areas of the occupied West Bank where 245,000 Jewish settlers live isolated from 2.4 million Arabs.

 

Palestinians are also angry that Israel, citing security reasons, will continue to control Gaza's border crossings, air space and waters, and say the occupation is far from over.