Settlers return as soldiers

Israeli troops advance into the Gaza suburbs for the first time in the early hours of Tuesday morning

Israeli troops advance into the Gaza suburbs for the first time in the early hours of Tuesday morning

Soldiers from the evacuated Gush Katif returned this week to some of the ruined settlements abandoned after Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005.

“I cried when our tank passed by the ruins of Netzarim and made a symbolic small tear in my uniform as a sign of mourning,” said one soldier interviewed through his parents and whose name cannot be used due to IDF restrictions.

An Israeli flag had been planted on the ruins and the road to Netzarim was being used by the 401th Armoured Brigade to cut Gaza City off from the southern part of the Strip.

On Sunday, a group of former Gush Katif settlers demanded that, following Operation Cast Lead, they should be allowed to return and rebuild their homes. As a first stage, they are demanding to be allowed back to Netzarim and the three settlements in the northern part of the Strip.

The main Gush Katif bloc is in the southern part of the Strip, where the IDF has yet to launch a major ground offensive. They are planning a major advertising campaign calling on the government to “correct its mistake” and return to Gush Katif and also enlarge the settlements in the West Bank.

Not all the former settlers, though, believe that this is the opportunity to return. Rafi Amzaleg, a former student of the Neve Dekalim Yeshiva in Gush Katif, who was training this week with his reserve unit in preparation for joining the operation in the Gaza Strip, said: “It pulls at my heart but we are rational people and we understand that this is a military operation and not the beginning of the resettlement of the Gush.”

    Last updated: 10:29am, January 15 2009