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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Army Begins Pullout From Gaza Strip

ISRAELI-OCCUPIED GAZA STRIP -- Beneath the windows of Shin Bet secret police cells, smiling soldiers piled equipment into trucks and photographed each other to capture Israel's withdrawal from the nerve center of its occupation of the Gaza Strip.


Arabs on the street by Gaza Division Command Headquarters looked on silently Tuesday as flatbed trucks removed the equipment but not the men who have ruled their lives for the past 27 years.


Army spokesman Major Sharon Grinker said the army would remove everything except basic operational equipment and men so that they were ready to pull out "very quickly" after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed a delayed self-rule deal for Gaza and Jericho.


Israel allowed reporters to witness the clearout, part of accelerated preparations for the accord which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are hurrying to conclude in Cairo.


Palestinians say Israel is putting on a show to strengthen its hand in Cairo. Pictures of the Israeli pullout put pressure on the PLO not to raise last-minute objections to the deal which was to have been fully implemented by April 13.


"This return should strengthen Fatah's position on the ground, and show that the peace process is working," said Hisham Abdel-Razek, a leader of the PLO's Fatah faction in Gaza.


In Jericho, Israeli police continued to move gear out of their headquarters in preparation for the handover to Palestinian police.


At Gaza army headquarters, chairs, desks, mattresses and an ironing board were piled in the back of a truck by youngsters who said they were happy to be going.


"No more war," shouted a corporal called Micha.


Micha -- like most of the young conscripts inside the headquarters which is also the site of Gaza central prison -- was happy at the thought of leaving the strip.


"I feel great about leaving. It's been hard," said another soldier helping load a truck."It's tough with the Arabs."


"I won't believe it until they are all gone," said Mazen Baker, watching the fleet of trucks and cranes. "We want to see the settlers gone and the Palestinian police deployed," he said.