Israeli forces “rehearse” the pullout

Israeli army passed on to military operations against Jewish extremists occupying a hotel in a Gaza settlement.

According to the AP, Israeli forces removed the extremists in minutes – which turned to be an unplanned dress rehearsal for the August pullout.

Earlier a ringleader of the group said openly that they were trying to create an explosion in the area that would stop plans approved by Israel's parliament and Cabinet to evacuate all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank, reported The Boston Globe’s correspondent from Gaza.

The military's actions yesterday seemed designed to show radical settlers the government's resolve to prevent such an explosion and to keep the disengagement plan on track, believes The Boston Globe.

The lightning operation on Thursday targeted the most dangerous of the opponents - West Bank extremists, some with long records of violence, who said they would battle against the Gaza pullout to the death.

But they quickly surrendered to the overwhelming numbers of Israeli security forces, struggling and shouting as soldiers lifted them from the floor of the hotel dining room and carried them outside.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called the Jewish extremists "hooligans" and added, "Preparations for disengagement and the disengagement itself will go ahead as planned with no hesitation. This is a test of the nation's authority, and the nation will pass the test with honor."

The extremists had welded bars on the windows and had supplies of food and water, and gasoline for firebombs.

On Thursday the military blocked reinforcements from arriving by declaring all of Gaza a "closed military zone," banning all civilians except for residents from entering, and the squatters said they decided not to resist.

Early Friday, the military lifted its order limiting access to Gaza. But it issued a new order limiting the transfer of equipment that might be used in another confrontation.

Earlier Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered police to crack down on Jewish extremists after they were filmed violently attacking a Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip.

"I will not let this situation continue," Ariel Sharon said in remarks published in the daily Yediot Aharonot newspaper. "I am not deterred by the crudeness that the disengagement opponents are showing me — they will not deter me."

While Palestinian attacks are a possibility, the Israeli discussion is focused largely on potential showdowns between the Israeli security forces and the settlers and their supporters. While protests appear certain to increase in size and frequency as the evacuation date approaches, many Israelis reject the notion that weapons will be drawn, report The New York Times. At the same time, the settler leadership and the more radical protesters are increasingly at odds when it comes to tactics, says the newspaper. The Yesha Council, the main settlers' group, has organized large peaceful protests and says it opposes violence and lawbreaking, and the settler leadership in Gaza criticized the occupation of the abandoned Palestinian homes.

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