Israel plans to withdraw from Gaza, but what does that mean?

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The Independent Online
How long will the Gaza evacuation take?

Q How long will the Gaza evacuation take?

It is scheduled to start next April or May and last around 12 weeks. But Israeli officials make no secret of the risks of evacuating 8,000 people in a hostile environment. Protesters may disrupt the process, and departing Israeli soldiers could be targeted by militants. The Israelis will dismantle settlers' houses but leave their roads and water systems in place. The Israelis will not hand over to the Palestinian Authority, however - they want a special international organisation to control the public assets.

Q Will the British be involved?

Yes, in terms of technical assistance and advice, although the Israelis rule out any sort of international force. According to a senior Israeli official, the British could be involved in training Palestinian security forces. Britain is notably helping the Palestinians to establish a central operations room for the civilian police in Gaza, and has also supplied 54 police cars for Palestinian-ruled areas.

Q What about border security?

Israel insists it wants to evacuate the eight-mile corridor along the border with Egypt, so Palestinians can travel abroad freely. But this can only be done when Egypt secures its side of the border and stops the smuggling of arms into Gaza, according to a senior Israeli official. The Israelis will continue to be responsible for border security, Gaza's airport and port.

Q Is this the first step towards further Israeli withdrawals?

The Israelis say if the Palestinians demonstrate they can rebuild "a more reliable" political entity in Gaza following the unilateral pullout, it could mark the return to political negotiations aimed at establishing a viable state. The senior Israeli official said that first, the Palestinians must dismantle the "infrastructure" of violence. The plan also provides for four West Bank settlements to be removed.

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