SANUR, West Bank – The evacuation of 25 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was completed Tuesday after Israeli troops routed out the last few pockets of resistance.
The pullout marks the first time Israel has abandoned Jewish communities in lands the Palestinians claim for their future state.
Forcible evacuation in the West Bank settlement of Sanur (search) was completed earlier Tuesday after Israeli SWAT teams cleared out protesters taking a last stand against Israel's pullout from the region. Security forces also grappled for 10 hours with a few remaining protestors in the nearby settlement of Homesh (search) before the ordeal was over.
About 6,000 troops — armed with riot gear, circular saws, water hoses and wirecutters — were mobilized to overwhelm the last stand against the pullout in Sanur and Homesh. The resistance was staged largely by 1,600 Israelis who didn't even live there — some of them youths known for their extremism and rejection of the Israeli government's authority.
Infiltrators in Sanur had barricaded themselves inside with shields and iron spikes while Israeli security forces had to thrust their way through the barricaded gate of Homesh.
Security forces had expected the evacuation of Sanur and Homesh to be the most violent phase of the Israeli pullout but resistance was surprisingly mild for the most part.
In Homesh, withdrawal opponents who had barricaded themselves onto the roof of a religious school locked arms but did not struggle when placed into the shovel of a bulldozer that lowered them to the ground. Troops with riot shields pinned them down inside the shovel to keep them subdued.
The main synagogue at Sanur was empty less than an hour after forces sawed open a barricade of iron bars at the synagogue's gates. Troops also broke into a religious school in Sanur and quickly carried out the 20 black-garbed ultra-Orthodox men holed up inside. A police commander was surrounded by weeping and chanting worshippers as he made a last appeal that they leave voluntarily.
A huge cargo container full of Israeli SWAT team members was lifted by a crane onto the roof of the school in Sanur that used to serve as an old British fortress. Forces carrying shields and wearing helmets used circular saws to cut open the iron doors of the building. They brought out resisters, some with legs and arms thrashing, from the ground floor of the building. Some wore orange stars of David on their shirts, reminiscent of the yellow stars Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Commander Meir Ben-Ishai declared that the resistance was over after settlers had been evicted from the rooftop stronghold in Sanur.
"The removal is over," he said.
Residents of the other two West Bank settlements slated for removal, Ganim and Kadim, have already left on their own. Military bulldozers on Tuesday began knocking down structures in Ganim, the first demolitions in a West Bank settlement.
The demolition of homes in all evacuated settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be completed in 10 days, said the Israeli army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.
Israel is destroying homes to prevent Jewish extremists from returning to the West Bank. The military fears that if left standing, these settlements could also become flashpoints of violence between settlers and Palestinians living in the area.
In Gaza, the Israeli government — after quiet consultations with the United States and the Palestinians — decided to demolish the private homes used by Jewish settlers, many of them single-family villas, and to leave most public buildings intact. The Palestinians felt the single-story houses were inappropriate for their housing needs in overcrowded Gaza, and many ordinary Gazans feared that corrupt Palestinian politicians and their cronies would appropriate settler villas.
Violence 'Less Than Expected'
Protesters on the roof of a house in Homesh hurled eggs, tomatoes and cans of food at troops below, who protected themselves with riot shields. Troops aimed water hoses at the protesters and used wire cutters to break through the barriers as rioters poked sticks at approaching troops. Forces then used a bulldozer to remove the barbed wire before storming the roof.
Security officials initially said 2,000 extremists were holed up in the two settlements. On Tuesday, the military offered revised estimates, saying about 1,600 to 1,700 people were in Sanur and Homesh before the evacuation began, most of them nonresidents. By midday, 246 Israelis civilians had been evacuated from 19 buildings in Sanur, and 86 from 45 buildings in Homesh, the military said.
Police said the operation broke the resistance on the rooftop and the eviction was effectively complete.
The military's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said violence was "less than expected."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) has said Israel's withdrawal from all 21 Gaza Strip outposts and four isolated communities in the northern West Bank will improve Israel's security by reducing friction with the Palestinians, and solidify Israel's grip on main West Bank settlement blocs, where most of its 240,000 settlers live.
Subhi Alawneh, a 58-year-old farmer from the nearby Palestinian village of Jaba, said Tuesday "is a day of celebration" for the more than 40,000 Palestinians who live near Sanur. In another village, residents watched the evacuations with binoculars and handed out sweets.
"We were afraid of them all the time," Alawneh said, referring to the settlers. "After they are removed we will distribute sweets and show happiness, we will go out into the streets to celebrate."
In one of the few instances of Palestinian fire since the evacuations began, gunmen shot at Israeli troops patrolling an area a few miles from Sanur and Homesh on Tuesday. One militant was moderately wounded in the ensuing gunbattle.
Children of all ages roamed the streets of Homesh and Sanur, enlisted by their parents in what they view as an apocalyptic battle. In Homesh, a baby wailed in the arms of a policewoman who carried the child onto a bus whisking the evacuees away. In Sanur, a rescue worker was wet-eyed as he carried a baby out of one of the homes.
The showdown between troops and Jewish pullout opponents in Sanur and Homesh came just hours after Israel wound up its evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza. The entire operation, which had been scheduled to take four weeks, was over in just one.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) called Israeli President Moshe Katzav (search) on Tuesday to praise the withdrawal.
The past five years of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed have put the Mideast peace process into a deep freeze, with Israel continuing to build in West Bank settlements and Palestinians failing to curb militant attacks on Israelis — both requirements of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin, Jonathan Hunt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.