June 30, 2005

Israeli commandos storm Gaza hotel

GUSH KATIF, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Israeli police commandosstormed a hotel in a Gaza settlement on Thursday to ejectradical Jews from a bastion of resistance to Israel's plannedpullout from the occupied territory, witnesses said.

They said police broke down doors to enter the barricadedhotel after the army declared a closed military zone in theJewish Gush Katif settlement bloc to put an end to an influx ofultranationalists bent on scuttling any withdrawal. Israelradio reporters at the scene said commandos began carryingrightist squatters kicking and screaming from the beachfrontPalm Beach Hotel, placing some of them in handcuffs.

Other policemen ran through corridors chasing rightiststrying to elude capture, witnesses said.

The raid a day after soldiers ousted other religiousrightists from a house they had seized as an outpost in theadjacent Palestinian district of al-Mawasi and arrested some ofthem for assaults on Palestinian inhabitants.

Soldiers fired in the air to quell stone-throwing clasheson Wednesday between the squatters, mainly teenage members ofthe banned anti-Arab group Kach, and local Palestinians.

One Palestinian teenager was seriously injured by rocksthrown at close range by Kach radicals.

Dozens of anti-pullout activists, many of them hardlinesettlers from the West Bank, moved into the derelict Palm Beachhotel earlier this year and vowed to bring tens of thousandsmore Jews into the area to block any withdrawal.

Many of the 8,500 resident Gush Katif settlers also opposeevacuation, but distanced themselves from the hotel radicalsafter some attacked Palestinians in al-Mawasi and grabbed anoutpost in the heart of the district.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said before Thursday'shotel raid that he had ordered a security crackdown on theultranationalists he described as "lawless gangs" engaged in "areign of terror" threatening Israel's democracy.

Far-right Jews protesting at the pullout plan also blockedseveral highways around Israel during Wednesday's rush-hour.About 150 demonstrators were arrested and police used watercannon to disperse some of the blockades.