Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the ongoing Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a painful step that is essential to Israel's national security.
Speaking on national television, the prime minister said Israel can not hold onto the territory forever. He said 85-hundred settlers are surrounded in Gaza by more than a million Palestinians, and noted that many live in crowded refugee camps in poverty and despair. He urged Palestinians to rein-in militants, and said Israel will respond favorably to Palestinian peace overtures. He also promised the harshest response ever to further attacks. Earlier on Monday, Israel's top general Dan Halutz said troops will begin forcibly removing Israelis from the territory on Wednesday. Thousands of Israeli soldiers and police descended on Gaza overnight to deliver eviction orders. Their entry was blocked in at least five of 21 settlements by people opposed to the pullout.