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Forced removal of settlers to begin Aug. 17 in Gaza

JERUSALEM -- The forced evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements will begin Aug. 17 and settlers who refuse to leave by then will lose out financially, a senior Israeli official said yesterday, giving a starting date for the first time.

Settler leaders have accused the government of trying to undercut resistance to the evacuation of Gaza's settlements and four in the West Bank with what they say are empty threats.

The senior official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said settlers who leave before the Aug. 17 deadline will get a better financial package, including special government grants and aid programs to help them resettle. However, he said, all settlers are entitled to the same basic compensation, regardless of their departure date.

Before Aug. 17, Israeli troops will go from house to house in settlements marked for demolition and tell residents their presence is illegal and they must leave, the official said, confirming Israeli media reports. Those who refuse to evacuate and are forcefully removed from their homes will be denied special government loans or discounts available to people who agree to leave early.

Farming is the centerpiece of the economy in Gaza's settlements, and those who leave before Aug 17 will be eligible to buy land at a discount. They also will be offered special loans to buy farming equipment, the official said.

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