June 29, 2005

Israeli army ejects rightist Jews from Gaza outpost

By Yoni Weizman

AL-MAWASI, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Israeli troops smashedtheir way into a Gaza building on Wednesday and ejected about30 ultranationalist Jews who seized it as an outpost ofresistance to a planned withdrawal from the occupied territory.

Soldiers earlier fired in the air to quell stone-throwingclashes between the rightists squatting in the vacantPalestinian house and Palestinian inhabitants in the al-Mawasidistrict enclosed by the Gush Katif bloc of settlements.

The violence gave a foretaste of unrest feared when Israelbegins evacuating Gush Katif in August under a plan to"disengage" from conflict with the Palestinians.

In the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli aircraft fired amissile at what the army described as a rocket and mortardepot, the first such attack since Israel and the PalestinianAuthority declared a ceasefire in February.

Residents of the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun said awater pumping facility was hit. There were no immediate reportsof injuries. Before the air strike, militants fired more than20 rockets and mortar bombs at Jewish settlements in Gaza.

In turmoil across Israel, anti-pullout demonstratorsblocked main highways in sit-down protests that tied up trafficduring the evening rush hour.

Police arrested 150 demonstrators and used water cannon forthe first time since such protests began several months ago,dispersing youths blocking the main entrance to Jerusalem.

At the three-storey house in Gaza, the ultranationalists --mostly religious youngsters -- set fire to tyres to try to keepthe soldiers out. The troops summoned a fire-fighting unit andthen moved in, arresting the 30 people inside, the army said.

An army spokeswoman said the raid was launched "after aspecific security alert about the intention of a (Palestinian)terror organization to attack the Israelis in the structure."

Ultranationalist graffiti and insults against the ProphetMohammed had been daubed by Jewish squatters on an outsidewall. A yellow flag of the outlawed anti-Arab group Kach wavedfrom the roof of the house.

"I'm a Jew from the Land of Israel. I fear only God," oneof the youths in the house told Reuters Television.

In clashes earlier in the day, four Palestinians wereinjured, one a teenager felled by a rock thrown from closerange by a settler, along with one settler and one soldier inthe sandy area around the house.

A soldier crouched to shield the seriously hurt Palestinianteenager from settlers nearby before the Palestinian was takenby ambulance to Khan Younis in Palestinian-administered Gaza.


Ultranationalists had grabbed two empty houses in al-Mawasiafter scuffling with soldiers on Sunday in a failed bid toprevent them razing other empty housing that rightists intendedto refurbish as bastions of resistance.

They are part of a spiralling campaign against PrimeMinister Ariel Sharon's move to scrap all 21 Jewish enclaves inGaza and four in the northern West Bank to "disengage" fromconflict with the Palestinians.

"Jews don't expel Jews," protesters, including children,blocking entrance to Jerusalem shouted before they were hit bythe high-pressure water blast.

At one bottleneck in Tel Aviv, police hurled youngprotesters head-over-heels over a concrete road divider.

"We will not allow a fellowship of gangs to drag thecountry downhill," a government official quoted Sharon assaying during a cabinet meeting.

Rightists call a Gaza pullout a betrayal of Jewish claimson biblical land and appeasement of Palestinian gunmen.

Palestinians welcome any Israeli withdrawals from landsoccupied in the 1967 war. But they suspect Sharon intends toleave Gaza mainly in order to cement Israel's hold on muchlarger settlements in the West Bank.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Allyn Fisher-Ilan,Steven Scheer and Nidal al-Mughrabi)