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Focus Shifts to Hard-Line Holdouts as Forced Evacuation of Gaza Settlements Enters Second Day

Israeli forces met stiff resistance and threats from armed Jewish extremists as they focused on evacuating the most hard-line Gaza settlements. Despite the opposition, security officials say they expect to complete the evacuation of all Gaza settlements within days.

As the forced evacuation of Gaza went into its second day on Thursday, police and soldiers focused on some of the most radical and hard-line settler strongholds, including Kfar Darom, Neve Dekalim, Shirat Yam and Kfar Yam.

Security forces met with stiff resistance from remaining settlers and above all, from thousands of young religious and nationalist militants who had come to Gaza to try to stop the withdrawal.

Defiant settlers and their supporters barricaded themselves inside synagogues in Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom. They holed up in houses and even schools. In many places protesters set up makeshift barricades, set fires to garbage and tires and even fields, gardens and homes. Police have been slowly dragging protesters from synagogues one by one.

The most serious incident occurred in Kfar Yam, where a settler armed with an M-16 rifle stood on the roof of his house and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to evict him. He later told Israeli TV he would not fire the first shot. Police said about 40 other hard-line protesters were in the house. They also said the presence in the settlement of four other armed men, led to a temporary suspension of evacuations there.

Police continued a two-pronged strategy throughout the day - negotiations to try to convince people to leave voluntarily and when that didn't work, sending in teams of unarmed security forces to drag and carry people out and onto waiting buses.

Negotiations went on at the Neve Dekalim synagogue, the largest in Gaza, for much of the day as police tried to convince hundreds of protesters to leave.

Finally, police commander Meir Ben Yshai announced the time for evacuation had arrived.

"You are here against the law," he said. "You are requested to leave." Commander Ben Yshai said buses were waiting outside and troops would enter the building in 10 minutes.

Troops then stormed the synagogue.

Once inside they were met by chants of "Jews do not evict Jews," as protesters sat and lay on the floor of the main prayer hall, holding on to each other. One by one, troops struggled to grab hold of protesters to carry them out.

Israeli media quote officials as saying around 80 percent of the Gaza settlers have been evacuated. And despite Thursday's stiff resistance, police say they believe they can finish the entire Gaza operation in a matter of days, not weeks as originally planned.

In all, some 9,000 settlers are to be evacuated from 21 settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the northern West Bank.