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Palestinian leader promises better future
Updated: 2005-08-20 14:13

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Friday hailed the ongoing Israeli pullout as the "fruit of Palestinian sacrifice," promising the people a better future as world leaders welcomed Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Abbas made the remarks while addressing a cheering crowd of supporters at the defunct Gaza International Airport, his first public speech since the start of Israeli evacuation on August 15.

Describing the Israeli pullout as "historic days of joy," Abbas urged the nation that "we want on this occasion to pay homage to our martyears, to our prisoners, to our wounded and all those among our people who have made sacrifices."

Palestinian leader promises better future
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas addresses supporters in the southern Gaza region of Rafah on August 19, 2005. Abbas hailed Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after a 38-year occupation as the 'fruit of Palestinian sacrifice.'[AFP]
The Palestinian leader stressed the need to improve quality of life in the Palestinian territories devastated by years of conflict and poverty, promising his people jobs, freedom of movement and new homes after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

"This airport will not stay idle. It will not stay out of work. Today we are visitors, tomorrow we will be travelers and, God willing, all the borders will reopen and our country will be open to all visitors," he added.

Meanwhile, Abbas called on the Palestinians to bolster the cause for establishing an independent state by refraining from violence, saying "the most important thing is how to build our country so that it will become a model of civilization for the rest of the world."

A few kilometers away, Israeli forces began to clear out one of the last strongholds of opposition to the Gaza pullout and demolished some homes in an empty Jewish settlement.

The work will be suspended for one day on Saturday out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath when all work must be halted.

According to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, house demolition in Gaza settlements will be overseen by the World Bank.

Palestinian leader promises better future
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he addresses a crowd during a celebration for Israel's Gaza withdrawal, at the Gaza international airport outside Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Aug. 19, 2005. [AP]
Large-scale demolition will begin on Sunday. Israeli bulldozers will knock down house walls, and the demolition process will be completed by Palestinian and Egyptian construction companies contracted by the World Bank after Israel completes its withdrawal from the strip.

After demolition is completed, part of the rubble will be used for the construction of Palestinian houses in the Gaza Strip. The remaining rubble will be buried in Egyptian Sinai or in the strip.

Dozens of Israeli police and solders were injured during conflicts with some settlers who defied orders to leave. About 20 demonstrators also were injured and 50 others were arrested.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, once a settlement pioneer, said he was infuriated by the violence during the pullout, terming the demonstrators in Kfar Darom as "criminals."

Sharon told the Haaretz daily that he felt very sad when watching the images of settlers losing their homes, but after seeing the violence "my mood altered and the pain turned to rage."

The Israeli strongman has won international praise for the unilateral move which has been welcomed across the world.

Tehran, Israel's foe, said the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was a "very important event" attributed to the longtime struggle of the Palestinians.

"It is interesting to know that this withdrawal was not a choice. This was a defeat sustained by the Zionist regime. It was done out of desperation," said Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard described the pullout as a courageous move towards peace, highlighting that Sharon "deserves praise and credit for the leadership that's displayed."

Australia will continue to support both Israel and the Palestinians in their efforts toward the peace process, said Howard.

The pullout is a right move toward the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, and it also would pave the way for a sustainable peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis, said Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

He indicated that it was better for Israel to look forward toward the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, adding that Israel and its people would also benefit if peace came in the Middle East.

Pakistan also termed the landmark withdrawal a first positive step toward complete Israeli pullout from the occupied Palestinian territories.

Pakistan hopes the move would lead to complete vacation of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967, paving the way for the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state living in peace side by side with Israel, said a Foreign Office spokesman.

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