Ariel Sharon: 'This ends a glorious chapter in the history of Israel'

From a televised address by the Prime Minister of Israel on the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank

More than a million Palestinians live in Gaza, and they double their numbers with every generation. They live in cramped refugee camps, hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope on the horizon.

The unilateral Disengagement Plan, which I announced two years ago, is the Israeli answer to this reality. The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] will redeploy on defensive lines behind the Security Fence. Those who continue to fight us will meet the full force of the security forces.

We await the Palestinian response - a hand offered in peace or continued terrorist fire. To a hand offered in peace, we will respond with an olive branch. But if they choose fire, we will respond with fire, more severe than ever.

Residents of the Gaza Strip, today marks the end of a glorious chapter in the story of Israel, and a central chapter in the story of your lives as pioneers who bore the security burden for all of us. Your pain is an inseparable part of the history of this country. Whatever disagreements we have, we will not abandon you, and will do everything in our power to rebuild your lives.

Soldiers of the IDF: standing before you is a difficult mission, not an enemy but your brothers and sisters. Sensitivity and patience are the order of the hour. I am certain that this is how you will behave. I want you to know: the entire nation stands behind you and is proud of you.

Citizens, I initiated this plan because I believe it is vital for Israel. We are embarking on a new path which has many risks, but also a ray of hope for all of us. With the help of God, may this path be one of unity and not division, of mutual respect and not animosity, of unconditional love and not baseless hatred. I will do my utmost to ensure that it will be so.

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