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Palestinians Celebrate As Last Of Israeli Soldiers Leave Gaza

By Steven Erlanger
THE NEW YORK TIMES


NEVE DEKALIM, GAZA STRIP

Throughout the abandoned Israeli settlements of Gaza, Monday was a carnival of celebration, political grandstanding and widespread scavenging for a Palestinian population whose occupiers vanished overnight, as the Israeli Army pulled its last soldier out of Gaza at 6:50 a.m.

But hours before the divisional commander, Aviv Kochavi, became the last Israeli soldier to leave, thousands of Palestinians had entered the once-forbidden settlements that, together with military infrastructure, consumed about 30 percent of the densely populated Gaza Strip.

The celebrations were orchestrated in part by the rival factions within Palestinian society — Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah, the mainspring of the Palestinian Authority. Their flags of black, green and yellow were more numerous than the Palestinian flag, and were prominent on abandoned Israeli military outposts and public buildings.

Hamas, which is running hard for votes in January’s legislative elections, paraded through numerous settlements, with armed and often masked men on loudspeaker trucks. Hamas posters and graffiti proclaimed the victory of resistance. Islamic Jihad, which is not running, did the same, as did armed members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a Fatah contingent.

Some who came did so to see the land they had worked before the 1967 war, when Israel took Gaza from Egypt; others honored friends who had died in attacks on the Israeli settlers; still others came to salvage whatever could be ripped away and sold from the large piles of rubble the Israelis had left behind.

Donkey carts were piled high with bathroom fixtures, pieces of metal, skeins of wiring and long pieces of wood, to feed home ovens. Men, women and children worked with a seriousness of purpose, trying to take home some little personal benefit from the return of lands many feel will somehow, as usual, end up in the hands of the wealthy or well connected.

By the light of burning egg crates, Samir Abu Hattah whacked away at window glass with a metal pole, shouting, “Go to hell, Zionists!” Then he directed a group of young men to start pulling down the electrical wiring, aluminum window frames and doors of an agricultural warehouse here in Neve Dekalim.