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Protesters Hold Out at Gaza Synogogue

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Israel says it is ahead of schedule in its withdrawal from settlements in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. This is day three of the forcible evacuation operation. More than 80 percent of the settlers have been removed, although a few holdouts remain. Today Israeli security forces stormed one of the last pockets of resistance. They broke through burning barricades surrounding a synagogue in a settlement called Gadid. NPR's Linda Gradstein has been reporting from the settlements this week and joins us once again.

And, Linda, what's happening today?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, in the settlement of Gadid, about 200 youth are clashing with the police and the soldiers. Most of them are not original families from the settlement. The families from the settlement have left, and these are protesters who have infiltrated in the last few weeks to join the resistance against the Israeli withdrawal. Police say that it is nothing like yesterday's protest, that it is under control, and by the end of the day, the settlement of Gadid, where I spent several days this week, will be completely evacuated.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that yesterday's protests were certainly more active, perhaps more violent than today. How bad did it get?

GRADSTEIN: It got pretty bad. I mean, there were hundreds of youth throwing everything they could at these police, who were trying to climb up onto the roof and evacuate them. The chief of the Gaza command said that he believes the protesters had thrown acid at the soldiers. There were soldiers coming out of there stripped down to there underwear and their colleagues were pouring bottles of water on them, and they were screaming. Today doctors say that they believe that it was paint thinner that was thrown and no acid at the soldiers.

In any case, several hundred of these demonstrators were arrested and the attorney general says that they will be prosecuted. Most of the others in the other settlements who have been arrested were briefly detained, questioned and then sent home.

INSKEEP: Linda, how are all these protests affecting the man who ordered the withdrawals, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?

GRADSTEIN: Well, in an interview with the Ha'Aretz newspaper today, Sharon is quote as saying that it was one of the most difficult days of his personal life. He said he knows many of the families within Kfar Darom, which was evacuated yesterday. Kfar Darom was actually built before 1948, in 1946, and then it was evacuated in the safe--as when the Egyptian army came in in 1948, and he said that it was very painful for him, but then he described the violence that we talked about earlier as criminal. He said that the protesters have crossed the line, and he said that he will do everything to make sure that we don't see that in the future. He also said that what he called Jewish terrorism must be stopped. He was referring to the shooting attack by Jewish settlers two days ago who opened fire on Palestinian workers in the West Bank, killing four.

INSKEEP: Linda Gradstein, over the past week, we've heard so many emotional voices from Israel and from Gaza on all sides of this question. Do you sense that the conflict in that region has changed through this week of evacuations and protests?

GRADSTEIN: It's definitely been one of the most painful times for many Israelis that I remember in many years of reporting. I mean, you saw these protesters and these, you know, people being dragged out of their houses screaming and crying. And it was also extremely difficult for the soldiers. I saw over the past few days at least a dozen in front of me--soldiers--break down crying and saying that they just couldn't do this and comforted by their commanders. And there is a sense that there's definitely something new. Israeli analysts say that they think that, you know, these emotions are very real but that Israeli society will be able to kind of move forward. Other people say they're not so sure. In other words, I've heard some of these settlers saying, `Well, the state is not my state anymore. I don't want to serve in the Israeli army anymore.' And one of the police yesterday, one of the commanders after this operation in Kfar Darom ended, said to me, `You know, in three years, these kids are going to have to be in the army and take orders, and,' he said, `I'm not sure that they will.' And he told me that he is personally is very concerned about what this might mean for Israeli society.

INSKEEP: NPR's Linda Gradstein is reporting today from a crossing point between Israel and Gaza.

Linda, thanks very much.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.