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Israeli Army Trains for Gaza Pullout


The evacuation of Israeli settlements in Gaza begins in about two weeks. About 50,000 Israeli police and soldiers will help to remove several thousand settlers and their supporters. For the past six months, the troops have been undergoing training, both mental and physical, and those on the front lines will not be armed. NPR's Mike Shuster visited an army base, not far from Gaza, where the training is under way.

(Soundbite of voices shouting and chanting)

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

It's hot and dusty and half a dozen mock settlers are blocking a dirt path that leads to a gate. Two young women have chained themselves to this gate, and on the other side, a dozen young men, chanting and singing, shouting through bullhorns, defy the Israeli soldiers and police marching toward them. It's all an exercise, but the participants on both sides are playing it for real. Carla Oz, a spokeswoman for the Israeli police, describes what is happening as the exercise unfolds.

Ms. CARLA OZ (Spokeswoman, Israeli Police): We're asking them to move away from the gate. The settlers are yelling back at the commanders that are trying to tell them how to move away from the gate.

SHUSTER: This morning, hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police, many of them quite young, are taking part. They are not armed and won't be when they come face-to-face with the real settlers. The mock settlers here taunt them with chants of, `Refuse your orders. We will not be evacuated,' and, `Jews don't evict other Jews from their homes.' They throw water on the police.

Ms. OZ: The people that are chained to the fence are trying to resist.

SHUSTER: And the police are climbing over the fence.

Ms. OZ: Yes, they're climbing over the fence. There's two girls chained to the fence. The policemen are fighting with the settlers that were on the inside of the gate, keeping them away from the gate.

SHUSTER: Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Monday that so far about half of the 8,000 settlers in Gaza had applied for government compensation, signaling their intention to evacuate peacefully. But that leaves possibly as many as 4,000 who may resist, bolstered by an unknown number of supporters who have slipped into the Gaza settlements over the past few weeks.

Each squad that will confront them is composed of 17 troops and police. They are being trained in many scenarios, including removing settlers who may be on the roofs of buildings and who may seek to puncture the tires of military vehicles, including buses that are carrying people out of the settlements. Superintendent Yehudi Mahmon(ph) says the police have been trying to get the troops ready for anything.

Superintendent YEHUDI MAHMON (Israeli Police): (Through Translator) The police, the soldiers, they don't know each scenario what's going to be. They're coming into the settlement, and they're hearing it as they go along, from the easiest scenario to the very most extreme scenario.

SHUSTER: As rough as this exercise is, the troops and police are bound to face some settlers who will resist with much more force.

Superintendent AVI ZELBA (Israeli Police): As far as I know, this is the most naturalistic it can ever be.

SHUSTER: Still, police Superintendent Avi Zelba pronounced himself pleased with the way things are going.

Superintendent ZELBA: I think they are ready now for this. This is not an easy job, you have to remember, because these people they have to evacuate their brothers, their sisters, people of their nation. But as long as--as far as they understand, this is the ...(unintelligible) decision, that's the way they are going to do it.

SHUSTER: All 50,000 of the force that will be employed to carry out the evacuation have been getting training like this. The evacuation of the Gaza settlers is expected to begin on August 17th. It could take several weeks in all.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem.

INSKEEP: This is not the first time that Israel has removed Jewish settlers from their homes. To find out how the Gaza pullout compares to the 1980s Sinai evacuations, visit npr.org.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.