Palestinians celebrating Gaza Withdrawal

Around 10,000 Palestinians danced and sang, some firing rifles in the air, in early celebrations on Thursday of Israel's coming withdrawal from occupied Gaza and part of the West Bank.

The festivities in Gaza City's main central square were sponsored by a special committee created by the Palestinian Authority government to raise public awareness of the pullout and encourage Palestinians to mark it peacefully.

Egyptian security officers have been brought in to help train a new 5,000-man Palestinian force to safeguard vacated Jewish settlements and prevent feared looting and seizures of property by armed factions powerful in Gaza.

The street celebrations were the first in a popular campaign launched by the Authority to foster a peaceful transition in settlement areas and army bases to be vacated by Israel starting on August 17 in a "disengagement" operation due to last a month.

Green-red-and-black Palestinian flags fluttered as women and youth danced in circles and belted out nationalist songs.

Some revelers held assault rifles, posters of late iconic guerrilla leader and president Yasser Arafat, and banners saying, "Settlements were historically owned by our people and let us preserve them" and "Let's fly the flags over our land," reports Reuters.

Photo: Magellan Geographics

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