KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip – Pressing ahead with their operation to evacuate all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces swept through synagogues in two settlements Thursday to evict hundreds of resisters to the withdrawal.

The army expanded the evacuation drive to more settlements, and said that 14 of the 21 Gaza settlements were already empty.

In the hard-line settlement of Kfar Darom, police SWAT teams were doused with acid, oil and paint as they stormed the roof of the synagogue to oust protesters who had barricaded themselves in the building.

At the main Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim, troops removed more than 1,000 protesters who had made a last stand at the main synagogue.

The confrontation in Kfar Darom was the most violent since the start of the evacuation operation Monday. Hundreds of protesters barricaded themselves in the synagogue and on the roof, ringing it with barbed wire.

Police broke down the front door and cleared out protesters inside the building, but their attempts to reach the roof in specially constructed cages lowered by cranes were thwarted by settlers brandishing long poles.

When the SWAT teams attempted to reach the roof with ladders, they were showered with paint, oil, sand and debris. One squad was hit by what appeared to be acid, and its members stripped off their clothes as their comrades doused them with water.

Using a water cannon and foam to disperse the protesters on the roof, the police managed to lower the cages and herd protesters in. They were then taken down and put on waiting buses.

Earlier, soldiers evacuated settlers from their homes in Kfar Darom, carrying many to buses.

At Neve Dekalim, about 500 men and youths and 700 mostly teenage girls took refuge in separate prayer halls at the central synagogue, singing and praying as hundreds of troops ringed the building.

The girls were evacuated with little resistance, but the men and youths sat on the floor, locked arms and legs and resisted fiercely when soldiers burst in and tried to haul them away.

“A Jew does not expel a Jew!” the crowd chanted as the soldiers pried the youths from one another and dragged them off to buses.

“This a synagogue, Nazis!” shouted one teenager.

Some worshipers were carried off wearing prayer shawls, while others struggled and kicked as they were taken away. “You will not be forgiven,” one man told the soldiers who carried him.

Many people wept, tearing their shirts in a Jewish sign of mourning.

After the room was cleared of many of the protesters, some settlers were accompanied by soldiers to the ark holding the Torah scrolls for a last farewell. Supported by the soldiers, they wept. Soldiers also cried, embracing the settlers.

“I’m torn inside, because the synagogue is the holiest place for Jews, and this one is being closed,” said Sgt. Major Eli Algarisi, 29, who took part in the eviction. “I hope we all come together, so we never have to evacuate anyone again.”

The pain was also felt Thursday by Sarit Sabbagh, a policewoman who supervised the evacuation of the Wexler family in Neve Dekalim from its home.

Tehila Wexler, 15, had to be carried out of her room, and outside the house she broke off a tree branch and pulled up a handful of grass to take with her.

“This is so cruel,” Tehila sobbed. “Don’t you understand, I don’t want to leave, this is my home. You are destroying our life.”

Sabbagh wiped away tears.

After Tehila was put on a bus with her family, Sabbagh was confronted by a neighbor.

“You just took a family out of its home,” the neighbor said. “How could you do it?”

“I did it because it was the decision of a democratically elected government,” Sabbagh said. “It is sad, and it is painful, but professionally I believe in what I am doing.”


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