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Israeli Army Prepares To Exit Gaza

But pullout date remains uncertain

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THE forlorn rubber plant is all that is left in Lt. Nadav Nitzan's outer office, except for the tangle of naked wires poking out of a bare wall.

Lieutenant Nitzan, logistics officer at the Israeli Army's Khan Yunis district headquarters, is about ready to leave. Already he has stripped his room down to one chair, a field radio, and a telephone.

``Ninety-nine percent of our staff was moved out yesterday,'' he said April 5. ``A few little things still have to go. We will be leaving just the walls and the doors and the lights.''

``All our new bases are ready,'' explained Maj. Udi Cohen, the senior Israeli officer in the Gaza Strip's central refugee camps. ``We just have to get the order, and in a short time, we could move to our new area.''

It is still unclear just when the Israeli Army will finally withdraw from Khan Yunis and other populated areas of the Gaza Strip. Under Israel's agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the pullout should be completed by April 13, but that deadline is looking hard to meet as negotiations drag on in Cairo.

In Gaza, though, the Army is moving apace to pull its troops back into new bases near Jewish settlements in the Gush Katif region, far from Palestinian towns and refugee camps.

Most of the soldiers are only too happy to be moving out. ``Brilliant'' was all reserve soldier Amotz Tal could find to say of his new base in Gush Katif, a former settlement nestled in sand dunes overlooking the Mediterranean, as a sea breeze rustled the eucalyptus and yellow mimosa trees planted around the basketball court.

Back in Gaza City, top Palestinian police officials were being shown around an Israeli police barracks overlooking some wasteland by the beach where goats grazed among vehicle hulks.

``I don't know when we will be taking it over,'' said Soufian Abu Zeida, head of the PLO liaison team with the Israelis in Gaza. ``We just came to see the place.''

Gen. Doron Almog, commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, was no clearer when the hand over would happen. ``It depends on them [the Palestinians], on their convenience, and their schedule,'' he said.

Up the road, at the newly painted former social club that will soon serve as the Palestinian police headquarters, Maj. Mansour Rayis, another senior Palestinian police officer, was also uncertain just when he and his men would take control.

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