JERUSALEM – Israel (search) expects that two-thirds of the 9,000 settlers in the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements slated for eviction will leave before troops come to clear the settlements, a senior Israeli official said in remarks published Friday.
In violence Friday, an Israeli security guard shot dead a 16-year-old Palestinian during a protest against Israel's West Bank (search) separation barrier, police said.
Friday was the first anniversary of a ruling by the International Court of Justice (search) in The Hague, Netherlands, that the barrier, a network of ditches, barbed wire and concrete blocks, violates international law and must be taken down.
Israel says the barrier is an essential measure to stop attacks. Palestinians argue that the enclosure, which dips into the West Bank at several points, is a land grab that hinders their attempts to create an independent Palestinian state.
Elsewhere along the barrier's route, near the Palestinian village of Bilin, stone-throwing protesters slightly hurt a soldier and a policeman, the military said.
Yonatan Bassi, who heads the agency in charge of compensating uprooted settlers, told the Haaretz daily he believes soldiers will encounter "only about a third of the settlers" still in their homes when the forced evacuation begins in mid-August.
Earlier this week, Bassi told a parliamentary committee that only 396 of the 1,100 settler families have so far started negotiating terms for relocating. Settler leaders have vowed to stay and resist Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan.
Bassi, however, said he believed many more would leave without being forced.
"In the two weeks before the disengagement, there will be an exodus," Bassi told Haaretz. "The people who are now trickling out will become a flow. Two days before 'D-Day' the flow will become a tidal wave." Settler leaders have promised nonviolent resistance only, but there are fears that small extremist groups will put up a fight. In recent weeks, extremists have commandeered buildings in Gaza and clashed with security forces and Palestinians.
Bassi said he believed that in most cases, even the settlers who remain to the last moment would not resist. "There will be a knock on the door and they will leave. Very few will resist by force," he said.
However, he did say there was potential for violent resistance in the settlement of Sa-Nur in the northern West Bank. Many veteran residents of the isolated Jewish enclave moved out after the September 2000 outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting and were replaced by hardline nationalists.
"Something very bad is liable to develop there (in Sa-Nur)," Bassi said.
In the interview Bassi, also addressed the fate of buildings to be left behind by the settlers. The Israeli government has decided to destroy them, but some officials, including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, say demolition would slow down the pullout and endanger soldiers unnecessarily.
Bassi said that the buildings will be destroyed to deny die-hard settlers any foothold.
"To make sure the settlers do not return, the (bulldozers) will advance with the forces and demolish one settlement after another," he said. Bassi said the greenhouses in the Gaza Strip would also be destroyed.
Palestinians had hoped that they would be able to take over the hothouses, where flowers and vegetables are grown, to help alleviate soaring unemployment in the poverty-stricken strip.
However, Haim Altman, a spokesman for Bassi, said Friday that nothing has been decided yet regarding the greenhouses. He said some of them could be dismantled and erected again at settlers' new locations.
The army said three soldiers were slightly injured Friday when their jeep ran over an explosive device planted by Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Israel has said the world court's ruling on the security fence was based on political arguments that ignored its security concerns and said it wood be bound only by its own Supreme Court, which has ordered changes to the barrier's route while upholding its overall legality.