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Israeli government votes to end Gaza occupation, but keeps synagogues standing

[JURIST] The Israeli Cabinet voted Sunday to leave Gaza, the last formality in Israeli withdrawal [IDF materials] from the region before handing over control to the Palestinian Authority (PA) [official website]. However, the Cabinet also voted against demolishing 20 synagogues [Haaretz report] still standing in the Gaza Strip [Wikipedia backgrounder], a move which PA officials say could delay IDF withdrawal [Haaretz report]. An Israeli High Court ruling Thursday had authorized the destruction of Gaza synagogues that could not be dismantled [JURIST report], but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon postponed the implementation of that ruling Thursday night pending today's Cabinet session. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Force officials said that Sunday's handover ceremony had been canceled, citing PA refusal to attend [IPC release].

Even after the pullout of Israeli forces from Gaza, the area's legal status as occupied territory remains unclear [Reuters report]. Israel has said that there will be an end to military rule in Gaza, but Palestinians say that the occupation will not completely end until Israel gives up control of the area's air space, sea lanes and border crossings. There has long been debate over whether the Gaza strip is an occupied territory - defined by Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations [text] as territory "actually placed under the authority of the hostile army." Israel has maintained that the region has been held "in dispute" and has not been under occupation and has also argued that the Fourth Geneva Convention [text], which outlines an occupier's responsibilities to citizens of that territory, does not govern because the Geneva Convention is an agreement between states and the PA is not a recognized state. AP has more.

4:34 PM ET - The BBC is reporting that Palestinians will demolish the synagogues in Gaza after the Israeli army withdraws, according to a Palestinian interior ministry spokesman.

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