Cabinet votes to end Gaza presence

Unanimously approves end to 38-year occupation; IDF to complete withdrawal.

Israel's Cabinet voted unanimously Sunday to end its 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip, clearing the way for Israel to complete its withdrawal from the area and turn it over to the Palestinians. The Cabinet also voted to turn over the volatile Gaza-Egypt border to Egyptian control. The votes were largely symbolic. Israel already has withdrawn all of its settlers and most of its soldiers from Gaza. The Cabinet decision cleared the way for a handover ceremony later Sunday. The last Israeli soldier is expected to be out of Gaza early Monday. IDF troops were poised to leave the Gaza Strip as soon as the fate of the area's 26 synagogues was decided at Sunday morning's cabinet meeting. If it is decided a to leave the synagogues standing, the pullout dubbed Operation Last Watch is scheduled to begin some time late Sunday night and finish early Monday, ending 38 years of Israeli presence in the area. While hoping for a smooth pullout from the area, Israeli security officials expressed concern over the possibility of thousands of Palestinians storming the evacuated areas as soldiers leave. This is why once the pullout starts, soldiers are scheduled to leave the different sectors in Gaza simultaneously. After leaving Gaza, the IDF will redeploy along the new border line, where Israel's defense will be largely defined by the latest technological knowhow, including digitally-operated weapons systems and drones that will continue to monitor the situation in Gaza after the pullout. Senior IDF officers said Israel's strategy towards Palestinian terror would change as quickly as an hour after the pullout ends, and warned that terror emanating from the Gaza Strip will draw a harsh response. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz was quoted as saying that in the event of such attacks, Israel would no longer attempt to determine who the responsible party was when responding to them. Senior officers said that while Israel would respond with restraint, in the event of major attacks that cause large numbers of Israeli casualties it may have no alternative but to return to the Gaza Strip.