Near the point where it burst into Sinai nearly 15 years ago in the opening hours of the six-day war, the Israeli Army March 3 launched its last battle in the desert before finally retreating from it - this time against Israeli militants - Monitor contributor Abraham Rabinovich reports.
At dawn, troops forcibly evacuated the illegal settlement of Chatsa Adar set up by diehards opposed to the scheduled April 25 pullback from Sinai under the Camp David accords. Soldiers used axes to smash open the mobile homes in which the 60 settlers had barricaded themselves. Although guns have been pointed at close range, not a shot has been fired thus far as both sides attempt to avoid sparking conflict. Soldiers participating in the evacuation have been disarmed.
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, a renowned battle commander who led Israeli forces across the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur war, surprised the militants by the timing and force of his move. A showdown had not been expected until the end of the month when the 2,000 permanent residents of the Yamit area must leave.
Estimates of the number of militants now in the Yamit region range from several hundred to several thousand, but they claim that tens of thousands of supporters will join them.