Israel to end Gaza pullout by September 15

Palestinian security officers stand Saturday behind a national flag at their base in the West Bank town of JeninOCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) — The Israeli military said Saturday it would complete its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip by September 15 but threatened to strike the territory hard if the Jewish state came under threat.

The head of army logistics, General Eran Ofir, told public radio: “I think that we will have finished the operation of transferring all military installations in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank by September 15.

Israel evacuated its 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip in late August, as it moved to end its 38-year occupation of the coastal strip, which is home to 1.3 million Palestinians.

In the past two weeks, the army has been busy demolishing both the settlements and the bases from which it used to protect them as it preapres to turn the land over to the Palestinians.

But the defence ministry warned Saturday that it would not spare the Gaza Strip if factions used the territory to launch attacks after the Israeli pullout.

“After the withdrawal, there will be no tolerance for any shots fired towards Israeli towns,” said Amos Gilad, security and policy adviser to Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz.

“Those who strike our population will pay a very high price. We will act in a manner that will have the effect of dissuading them,” Gilad told public radio.

He refused to disavow comments by chief of staff General Dan Halutz Friday that Israel would respond disproportionately in the event of mortar or rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip on Israeli towns.

Israel worries Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will fail in his quest to silence the rockets of groups like Hamas.

Abbas, under pressure from Hamas and elements of his own Fateh movement, expressed unhappiness Saturday with the extent of the Gaza pullout. He argued in an interview with Al Quds newspaper that Gaza’s Erez and Karni border crossings were built on Palestinian land.

“There are lands in eastern and northern Gaza still under occupation,” Abbas said. “We need to renegotiate the details and get back to the real border.”

The Islamic group Hamas, meanwhile, published the names of its top military commanders on its website in a direct challenge to the Palestinian leadership, which has called on groups to disband.

In a defiant statement of its continued commitment to the armed struggle, Hamas posted the seven names, along with photographs, biographies and statements.

Some of the names were already in the public domain, including that of the overall commander of its military wing, Mohammed Deif, 43.

The elusive Deif, left with one eye after an Israeli rocket strike in 2002, appeared in a filmed interview posted on Hamas’ website last week.

In that interview, Deif warned the Palestinian leadership not to contemplate any move to disarm Hamas, a comment that was reproduced in Saturday’s posting.

“We warn all those who try to touch the weapons of those who liberated Gaza. These arms must be used to free our occupied motherland,” Deif said.

The Palestinian Authority said this week it would not tolerate armed groups in areas Israel has withdrawn from, including the Gaza Strip, triggering an angry reaction from groups, including offshoots of the leadership’s Fateh movement.

The main outside players in the Middle East peace process — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — meanwhile, announced their first meeting since the pullout.

The so-called quartet will gather in New York on September 20, UN envoy Alvaro de Soto told reporters.

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