Israel closes Gaza Strip settlements again

Israel is afraid of new protests against withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday it closed all the settlements to nonresidents.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Gaza Strip settlements and four settlements in the northern West Bank closed to all nonresidents to keep out protesters opposed to Israel's planned withdrawal from the communities, reports the AP.

Israeli soldiers set up a roadblock Wednesday morning and began turning away all those without residence permits.

Sharon met with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and the heads of various security forces on Tuesday and they agreed to seal off the communities slated for evacuation next month, according to a statement from Sharon's office.

The step also gave security forces the authority to remove any nonresidents who are already in the settlements.

In recent months, scores of people opposed to the pullout moved into empty houses and tents in the settlements in preparation for planned protests against the pullout.

On July, 1, Israeli troops "rehearsed" the pullout by removing extremists from a hotel in a Gaza settlement "in minutes," as media reported. Amid growing tensions on the withdrawal Israeli President Moshe Katsav warned that right-wing nationalists could attempt to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. At the same time the Israeli cabinet overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to delay the start of Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal for three months.

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