KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip – Israeli security forces were carrying Jewish activists out of synagogues in Neve Dekalim (search) and Kfar Darom on Thursday as they tried to clear out hard-line settlements where some protestors were refusing to be evicted.
By the close of the day, 14,000 unarmed forces had cleared those two settlements as well as 15 others, making solid progress in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to cede Gaza to the Palestinians. Four settlements still hadn't been evacuated.
During day two of forcible removal of settlers from the region, a standoff with about 1,500 teenage extremists continued at the Gaza Strip's largest synagogue in Neve Dekalim. Men inside were lying on the floor with arms linked to make it harder for troops to carry them out. Some were throwing water on the faces of the security forces and hitting the soldiers who were trying to remove the protestors with as little force as possible.
Outside, teenage girls confronted a wall of troops surrounding the building, waving their fists and screaming, "You're driving Jews out of a synagogue. The last time this happened was the Holocaust. ... You're Jews, you have a Jewish heart, you don't have to do this."
Many of those involved were teenage activists from outside the settlement. Hebrew music was playing as soldiers struggled to carry protestors out. But during the scheduled prayer time, both settlers, protestors and Israeli troops took time out to pray together.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops sprayed protestors with water — then later soap — behind barbed wire on the roof of the Kfar Darom (search) synagogue with a giant water cannon. Cages full of SWAT-like teams of Israeli troops were lifted into the synagogue as a type of Trojan horse-like maneuver.
Troops used ladders to get to the roof, where resisters pelted them with paint, sand and even motor oil. The protestors at Kfar Darom had been throwing paintballs, broken lightbulbs and other makeshift weapons at the troops. Some protestors and police were seriously injured.
The history of Kfar Darom goes back to 1946, before the establishment of the state of Israel. Two years later, settlers there held off the Egyptian military for three months during Israel's war of independence.
"The closest thing to Kfar Darom in the United States is the Alamo. Imagine pulling people out of this place," Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, told FOX News. "They are heroes of Israel and we owe them a great deal after they are pulled out of their homes."
As another sign of protests against the evictions, settlers elsewhere burned houses, fields and tires.
Despite these reports, most Gaza Strip residents left peacefully; the majority of residents support the reasoning behind clearing out of the region.
"I think today's the day of tremendous national anguish. Many people thought this whole process would polarize Israeli society because that seemed to be the environment here leading up to the national disengagement effort," Gold said, adding that in actuality, communities are pulling together to support each other and, despite the public protests, the settlers and troops cry together over what is happening.
For years, 8,500 Israelis lived among Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians in perpetual tension and frequently lethal violence. The standoff at the synagogues was a symbolic climax to the withdrawal operation, since many of the settlers are Orthodox Jews who believe Gaza is the biblical birthright of the Jewish people.
Security officials said they expected to clear out all 21 Gaza settlements by Tuesday, more than two weeks ahead of schedule.
'They Crossed the Line'
"Everything that they had, they threw at us -- onions, potatoes -- everything," Sgt. Yossi Attias, a member of the border police SWAT team that helped clear protestors from the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue, told FOX News.
"The hardest moment is to stand there and ... to receive all the water and the second thing is to stand up to the Jewish people and to take them out from this place," he added.
Gen. Dan Harel, the man leading the Israeli Army's southern command that was in charge of evacuating Kfar Darom, said the infiltrators at the synagogue who participated in more violent protest went against the non-violent mantra of Jewish settlers protesting the pullout.
The protestors "disgraced the synagogue then used a lot of violence against the policemen ... it's stepping out of the line of nonviolent struggle the settlers forced on themsevels," Harel told FOX News after being sprayed with paint and other materials from protestors on the roof.
He noted that the people on the roof were not settlement residents but outsiders who came in to make the job harder for the 14,000 troops and soldiers and in turn, caused more resentment toward them. But what's happening in Kfar Darom is more the exception than the rule of what's happening during the pullout, he added.
"These means were not used during the last week here in the Gaza Strip -- it's going way out of line," he said of the tactics used from the roof. "I hope that the crack that was split today, we will be able to heal it up and move forward to a common future together."
At least 41 police and soldiers and 17 civilians were injured during Thursday's raids on six settlements, including Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom, police said. In Kfar Darom, about 50 people were arrested.
Former Ambassador Dennis Ross, the Mideast coordinator during the Clinton administration, said the more violent the protestors get, the more backlash that will be created against them.
"It's a reminder that this is a very difficult time," Ross said.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Sharon, told FOX News that the extremism of the Kfar Darom protests was unacceptable.
"This wasn't supposed to be the kind of protest these people promised and above all, these people defiled a synagogue," Gissin, who was at the scene, told FOX News.
He said the Israeli soldiers acted in "an impeccable way."
Gissin said Sharon has been watching the happenings closely with both sorrow and determination and is planning ways to fix the "tribal warfare" that has broken out here and there during the evacuation process.
The prime minister feels "sorrow and excruciating pain that this happened between Jews," the adviser said. "He who has defended Jews his entire life ... and for him being the reason for the fighting is really painful ... but this is something that has to be done.
"Today is the time to start the healing and the end of this war."
President Bush is receiving frequent updates from his staff on developments in the Gaza Strip, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in Crawford, Texas, on Thursday.
"The president continues to support Prime Minister Sharon and what he has called a very bold initiative," she said. "It's very courageous. We understand the deep sentiments that are felt and the difficulty one feels when leaving ... their home."
The withdrawal will "make Israel stronger" and bring the United States and Israel "closer together," Perino added.
Ambassador Arye Mekel, consul general of Israel, told FOX News that he does not think the evacuation of the settlements will further make Israel vulnerable to Palestinian terrorism.
"I think the Palestinians have too much to lose ... if they seize this opportunity, build Gaza … Gaza could be the beginning of a good future for both Israelis and Palestinians," Mekel said.
What the Palestinians need to do is very simple, he said: "Stop terror … if there is no terror, there is no reason we should not make progress ... but if there is terror, then the Israeli army will be back in no time."
'Cry Like We Are Crying'
In the farming settlement of Netzer Hazani (search), protesters set fire to barricades, fields and houses, sending a huge plume of black smoke into the air. Youths in Shirat Hayam (search), a hardline beachfront outpost, burned tires and garbage.
After failed attempts to negotiate a peaceful surrender, troops began moving into homes in Kfar Darom.
In one house, a husband and wife lay on the floor, shrieking and clutching their small children. A soldier participating in the evacuation of a religious school suddenly disobeyed orders and was quickly carried away by troops.
Troops also burst into a nursery school crowded with protesters. People sang and danced as the troops entered, and about two dozen young children were playing with toys. Troops quickly cleared out the building.
Moti Cohen, who had come from Jerusalem to be with the settlers, said protesters have hoarded sand bags and cans of foam spray for the confrontation at Kfar Darom's synagogue. A large banner draped over the facade read: "For the Lord will not abandon His people or abandon His land."
Residents jeered the forces throughout the day, driving several soldiers to tears. "You're right. Cry like we are crying," shouted one settler who was loaded onto a bus, still wearing his white prayer shawl. By midday, 200 people had been removed, the army said.
Noga Cohen, who had three children maimed in a Palestinian shooting attack on a bus, said Israel was surrendering to Palestinian militants. On the door of her house was a sign. "In the event you knock on the door, you are a direct partner in the most terrible crime in the history of the nation of Israel."
Just a few yards outside Kfar Darom, dozens of Palestinians stood on the roofs of their houses watching the evacuation.
"For the first time in the last few years I'm standing here without any fear that Israelis will shoot at me because their battle today is against themselves," said Mohammed Bashir, a Palestinian farmer.
In the small settlement of Netzer Hazani (search), troops faced off with settlers on either side of a burning barricade of garbage containers and tires soaked in gasoline. There was a pall of smoke over the settlement after settlers burned trees and brush nearby. A firetruck and large bulldozer cleared out the area, and troops poured into the settlement.
Residents pelted the firetruck with eggs and shouted at the soldiers, who used megaphones to order the settlers back into their homes. Most complied, though several emerged later to try to block an army bulldozer from clearing a path for troops.
Troops also entered the small settlement of Gan Or and Shirat Hayam, a small hardline outpost, as well. In Gan Or, one house was set on fire, and one family barricaded themselves in their home. The army declared a curfew in Al-Mawasi, a Palestinian town adjacent to Shirat Hayam, to protect settlers and soldiers during the pullout.
So far the pullout's worst violence occurred not in Gaza, but in the West Bank. A Jewish settler, apparently despondent over the withdrawal, opened fire at Palestinian workers, killing four.
Hamas (search) pledged revenge, but a spokesman for the Islamic militant group indicated the group would not attack exiting Israelis in Gaza since it wants the withdrawal to be completed as soon as possible.
After the West Bank shooting, three mortar shells and a homemade rocket fired from Palestinian territory exploded near emptied Gaza settlements. No one was hurt.
Sharon condemned the shooting and appealed to settlers to direct their anger at him, not at the soldiers.
Sharon proposed his "disengagement plan" two years ago to ease Israel's security burden and help preserve Israel's Jewish character by placing Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians outside the country's boundaries. Israel has occupied Gaza for 38 years.
The Palestinian Authority and the United States want the pullout to be the beginning of the "road map" peace process, meant to bring about an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Palestinian militants are portraying the pullout as a victory for their suicide bombings and rocket attacks, and some Israelis fear they will resume their violence once the withdrawal is complete.
Aaron Miller, the former deputy special Mideast coordinator, said with the Gaza withdrawal, it's now up to the Palestinians to show they, too, are committed to reducing terror and living peacefully next to Israelis.
"It's clear that Gaza first cannot be Gaza only — there's no question about that but at the same time, Palestinians also need to rise to the challenge," Miller told FOX News, referring to the fact that Israeli forces will likely also have to pull out of other regions like the West Bank but should only do so if Palestinian leaders live up to their end of the bargain.
"I think the Palestinian Authority is capable of rising to the challenge" if Gaza is quiet for the next few months, he said. "Then it seems to me the pressure will in fact grow for another step but that step is not going to be complete evacuation of Israeli forces from the West Bank … We're in for a really long road but this is a very important, albeit traumatic, first step."
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin, Mike Tobin and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.