JERUSALEM – Hundreds of Gaza Strip (search) settlers handed in forms on the value of their property Thursday in a first step toward receiving government compensation for the upcoming evacuation of the coastal area, a settler leader said.
The process was seen was seem as a sign more and more settlers are coming to terms with Israel's summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
So far, only about 400 Gaza and West Bank (search) families have requested government compensation, and an additional 400 families are in various stages of talks with the government on relocating. In total, about 1,800 families — some 9,000 people — are to be evacuated from their homes this summer.
On Thursday, hundreds of settlers handed in forms requesting detailed assessments of their property, said Itzik Spiegel, an attorney representing Gaza settlers. Some of the requests were submitted on orange paper, the color symbolizing opposition to the pullout from Gaza and four West Bank settlements, he added.
Itzik Ilia, deputy head of the Gaza settler regional council, said the families were submitting the forms because Thursday was the deadline the Supreme Court gave for requesting an assessment. But he insisted settlers would continue to fight the pullout, scheduled to begin in mid-August.
"It will only be a done deal when I leave .... with my family," Ilia said.
Haim Altman, a spokesman for the government administration overseeing compensation, said he was told to expect about 1,000 forms. "I don't want to jump for joy at the moment," he said.
Many settlers oppose the plan and have vowed to fiercely resist the evacuation. At the same time, they accuse the government of not providing equitable alternative housing solutions and of offering unfair compensation. The government says the settlers' refusal to cooperate is making it difficult to provide them with acceptable housing after the evacuation, although rentals units, prefabs and hotel rooms already have been reserved.
Police, meanwhile, simulated the evacuation of a settlement in an army base in southern Israel. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said 45,000 soldiers and police would be mobilized for the operation.
Some soldiers have already refused orders to participate in pullout-related activities, and the army is preparing for the possibility that dozens will follow suit when the evacuation begins.
Settler leaders have called for a mass migration to Gaza on July 18, an attempt to sabotage the evacuation by inundating the area with protesters.
Security forces were preparing for the possibility of sealing off Gaza to nonresidents as early as Sunday, a military official said Thursday on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made.
Palestinian National Security adviser Mohammad Dahlan (search), who is overseeing Palestinian efforts to coordinate the withdrawal, said he and Israeli Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon would meet Thursday evening. The Palestinians intend to bring up the reopening of the Gaza airport, crossings into Israel, and the development of Gaza and the West Bank after the withdrawal, Dahlan said.
The two men were also to discuss whether Israel would demolish settlers' greenhouses, or turn them over to the Palestinians, he added. He said Palestinians were unwilling to bury the rubble of Israeli settlers' houses in Gaza if Israel destroys them, for fear it would create an environmental hazard.
In violence, Israeli troops shot and killed two armed Palestinians in separate incidents, the military said.
Soldiers fired and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian and wounded his friend after they fired on a convoy of Jewish worshippers and soldiers who were leaving the Joseph's Tomb holy site near the city of Nablus, the military said.