Mixed Feelings Over Gaza Strip Pullout

It's a heartbreaking change for some, hope for others, as Israel finishes pulling all its settlers out of the Gaza Strip. Yesterday, buses loaded with Israeli troops arrived at Netzarim, the last settlement to leave.

In their first conversation since the pullout began, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas spoke for about five minutes, pledging peace.

President George Bush is praising the success of the operation. "In the heart of the Middle East, a hopeful story is unfolding," he said. "After decades of shattered promises and stolen lives, peace is within reach in the Holy Land."

Jews here at home are keeping a very sharp eye on the situation. They've got mixed feelings. They weren't happy to see the settlers leave, but they understand it's a necessity if there's ever going to be peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Almost every evening when I watch the news taped from Israel on the internet, my eyes have been filled with tears," said Yigal Levi.

Levi lives in Jerusalem, and has spent a lot of time in the Gaza Strip, defending the very people who've been forced out over the last few days. "Many times, as a soldier serving there."

He and others say it's not an easy move for Israel to make, but something that probably had to happen if peace is to have a chance in the region.

"There are 8,500 settlers, there were, in the Gaza Strip," said Paul Kulbersh of the Jewish Federation. "And there were 23,000 soldiers guarding those people."

"It's becoming more and more insecure to ride a vehicle or just spend time there," noted Levi.

Now the question is, will it work? Ideally, Israel and Palestine will build on this first step toward a historic peace agreement, but not everyone is convinced this land-for-peace deal will hold up.

"It's not the first time, I'm sure it will not be the last time," said Kulbersh. "But now is the time for the Palestinian people to show that they really mean what they say."

It will still take several weeks before Israel hands the territory over to the Palestinians.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com