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Last Israeli Soldiers Leave Gaza

12 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The last Israeli soldiers have left the Gaza Strip, completing Israel's withdrawal from the coastal territory after 38 years of occupation.

The last Israeli column of military vehicles this morning passed through the Kissufim crossing into Israel. Israeli Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi announced that the mission had been completed and that a new era had begun.

Earlier, as the Israeli military pullout was under way, thousands of Palestinians moved into the 21 abandoned Jewish settlements to raise the Palestinian national flag and celebrate the withdrawal.

Police stood to the side as crowds smashed and set fire to empty synagogues and other buildings that were left behind by the Israelis.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli Army's departure from Gaza was a day of joy, but said much work still needs to be done to secure an independent Palestinian state. He noted Israel still controls Gaza's borders, airspace, and seacoast.