History of the Gaza settlements

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Mr Sharon spent more than two decades facilitating Israeli occupation of the Gaza strip. In the mid 1970s, as advisor to the then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, he negotiated a deal that allowed for the building of Elon Moreh settlement, home to about 1,000 settlers.

The 1980s saw an expansion in the number of settlements, overseen by Mr Sharon, then minister for settlements, as part of a larger goal to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Neve Dekalim, the largest, was constructed in 1983, while Atzmona, home to more than 650 people, was founded in 1982 in part of Gush Katif.

In 1994, after the Oslo peace accords ruled that much of the strip should come under the power of the Palestinian Authority, Israel relinquished control of the Gaza city, its army's administrative headquarters since 1967. An uneasy peace reigned and the construction of settlements stopped.

But an escalation of violence in Gaza brought tensions between the 8,000 Israeli settlers and Palestinians to a head.

In 2004, Mr Sharon announced the Israeli army would withdraw from all 21 Gaza settlements, and from four in the West Bank. For the settlers, his transformation from saviour to traitor was complete.