Israel threatens extremely harsh reaction to post-withdrawal attacks from Gaza

Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip briefly abducted an Italian journalist, seized two government buildings and fired shots at a third on Saturday, signs of the lawlessness that threatens to intensify in the territory after Israel pulls out early next week.

The last Israeli soldiers are to leave on Monday, or a day later if the Israeli Cabinet decides to raze more than two dozen synagogues still standing in demolished settlements. The Cabinet is to vote on the emotionally charged matter on Sunday, and Army Radio reported that momentum was gaining against demolition.

Two hundred Egyptian border guards, meanwhile, took up position along the volatile Gaza border Saturday to prevent arms smuggling and illicit crossings after the Israelis end their 38-year occupation of Gaza and turn over the coastal strip to the Palestinians. An additional 550 Egyptian soldiers are to be assigned to the desert frontier during the coming week, an Egyptian official said.

Egptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is expected in Gaza on Sunday to try to wrap up a deal between Israel and the Palestinians on the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which Israel shut down temporarily earlier this week, to the Palestinians' dismay.

The crossing is the Palestinians' main gateway to the outside world, and the Palestinians are afraid that its closure _ coupled with existing restrictions on entry to Israel, and the lack of a harbor or airport _ would lock up Gaza's 1.4 million residents.

While Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt prepared for the transfer of power in Gaza, the power of armed gangs there remained unchecked.

In Deir El-Balah, gunmen stopped the car of Corriere della Sera journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi, forced him into their vehicle, and headed for a nearby refugee camp, witnesses said. He was released unharmed in Deir El-Balah nearly four hours later, Palestinian security officials said.

Palestinian security officials said the kidnappers were among the 60 armed Palestinians who earlier in the day occupied the local governor's headquarters and Interior Ministry offices in the town, demanding jobs with the Palestinian Authority. They took Cremonesi in an attempt to bolster their claims, the officials said.

In Gaza City, three gunmen opened fire from their car at the Interior Ministry press office, touching off a brief gunbattle with the building's guards. No one was injured, and the gunmen escaped, the ministry said in a statement.

"There are many elements and many parties who are interested in preserving the chaos, because they cannot live under law and order," ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said in the statement.

"But this situation is not going to continue after the end of the Israeli occupation, and the law will be enforced because providing security and stability is in the interest of all Palestinians," Abu Khoussa said.

Palestinian officials have said that after Israel's military pullout, they would prevent Palestinians from entering the evacuated territory for at least three days so police could take control of the area and secure it. But so far, they haven't been able to control the growing and increasingly brazen crowds that have gathered outside the settlements Israel emptied two weeks ago.

Hundreds of Palestinians turned out Saturday in the town of Khan Younis to station themselves to watch Israeli soldiers withdraw from what was once the main settlement bloc, Gush Katif. Dozens of youths hurled rocks at four Israeli tanks positioned there while Palestinian policemen struggled to chase them away.

Nearby, dozens of gunmen from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party marched to the Tuffah crossing between Khan Younis and Gush Katif, where they, too, ignored orders from Palestinian police to stay back, strode past a manned security barricade and fired shots in the air.

An Israeli tank was stationed 100 meters (yards) away.

Israel threatened on Saturday to deliver an unprecedentedly harsh response to any attacks from Gaza after Israeli troops quit the territory.

"An hour after we leave the field, there will be a strategic the nature of our response to even an attempt at terror," Maj.-Gen. Yisrael Ziv, the military's chief of operations, told Israel Radio. "We shall have a far more extreme reaction to any attempt."

While Israel has in the past used air strikes and tank assaults against militants, it declared a policy of relative restraint after a February cease-fire, AP reported.

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