Palestinians visit abandoned Gaza settlements

Israeli army officers followed Palestinian security commanders through demolished Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in preparation for a planned military withdrawal from the territory next week.

The Israeli army is dismantling bases, watchtowers and fortified positions, and according to military officials the last troops are to leave by Sept. 15.

The joint tour was the first time Palestinian officials were allowed into the settlement areas, which have been reduced to rubble by bulldozers after the evacuation of nearly 9,000 settlers and a few thousand more supporters last month.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the aim of the officers' tour was "to prepare for the day after" the Israeli pullout and "to enable the Palestinian Authority to get ready to take over after the army leaves the Gaza Strip."

Meanwhile violence by Palestinian militants has dropped sharply since the withdrawal began, the Chicago Tribune reports.

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