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Frenzied clashes rock Gaza

Kfar Darom (Gaza Strip), Aug. 18 (Reuters): Israeli troops using cranes and water cannon battled protesters on the rooftop of a Gaza settlement synagogue today as they assaulted the last bastions of resistance to evacuation of the occupied strip.

In the most violent, frenzied scenes since the start of forced evictions from Gaza, unarmed police poured from a cage hoisted on top of a synagogue in Kfar Darom and fought settlers and their supporters before dragging them away.

Shouting: “Jews don’t expel Jews”, protesters hurled stones, concrete chunks and paint-filled light bulbs at troops climbing up ladders to cut through coils of razor wire lining the roof.

Several police were hurt by acid thrown at them, police said.

The melee was reminiscent of Israel’s chaotic evacuation of the Yamit settlement in Sinai in 1982 and followed a standoff with hundreds of ultranationalist youths barricaded inside the synagogue and defying orders to leave.

That came just an hour and a half after security forces swept into another synagogue in Gaza’s largest settlement, Neve Dekalim, to dislodge more than 1,000 young radicals.

The raids could break the back of resistance to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to evict 8,500 settlers and their supporters from the territory occupied since 1967, home to 1.4 million Palestinians.

In the Neve Dekalim synagogue, protesters locked arms and legs lying on the ground, and teams of four soldiers had to pry them loose one by one before carrying them to waiting buses.

One teenager flailed wildly and shouted: “May this be a stain on your hearts forever!” An exhausted soldier, drenched in sweat, was pulled out on a stretcher sobbing: “I can’t go on”.

Troops in riot gear broke later into the Kfar Darom synagogue carried out hundreds of youths holed up inside. Police fired water cannon at dozens of jeering, flag-waving protesters on the rooftop before launching their assault. Officials said 80 per cent of Gaza’s Jews had left or been evicted.

As negotiators tried in vain to get protesters to leave the Kfar Darom synagogue, troops knocked on doors of houses and ordered people out. Some were dragged out, yelling and sobbing.

“We won't be moved from the Land of Israel,” shrieked a bearded man in a prayer shawl who tied himself to a staircase and had to be cut down and carried away by soldiers.

Soldiers in Kfar Darom found themselves bursting in on a birthday party for a baby girl in a pink dress when they came to evacuate the family.

Troops also dragged away a soldier who refused to take part in the operation.

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