Abbas Signs Decree for Palestinian Authority Control of Evacuated Israeli Settlements

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree Saturday formally giving control of the evacuated Israeli settlements to the Palestinian Authority. The move comes as Israeli forces began digging an eight-meter deep trench in Gaza to keep Palestinians from entering the evacuated areas.

The decree states that no one may make personal use of the land in the evacuated settlement areas, until ownership claims have been resolved.

President Abbas says Palestinians must protect and rebuild the Gaza Strip to set an example to the world, now that Israel is pulling out after 38 years of occupation.

President Abbas told hundreds of exuberant, flag-waving Palestinians Friday, their sacrifice brought about what he called a "joyous occasion." Mr. Abbas promised his people freedom, jobs and homes, and encouraged them to refrain from violence.

Israeli troops completed the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlement of Gadid Friday, removing about 90 people from one of the last pockets of resistance to the government-ordered withdrawal from the Palestinian territory.

Israeli troops also began digging a deep trench around the Gush Katif settlement block in southern Gaza to keep Palestinians out, until all the settlements have been completely evacuated.

No evacuations are scheduled for Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but Atzmona, Slav and Katif, where an estimated 1,000 settlers and disengagement opponents are holding out, are to be cleared starting on Sunday. A few people also remain to be evacuated from the northern Gaza settlements of Elei Sinai, Dugit and Nissanit.

The last major redoubt for the settlers in Gaza is Netzarim, which sits by itself in the central part of the Gaza Strip. It is to be evacuated on Tuesday.

Israeli authorities estimate that, unless they encounter delays, all settlements in Gaza and four small enclaves in the northern West Bank will be empty by the end of the week.