July 18, 2005

Israeli forces block settler plan to march on Gaza

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Security forces across Israel blocked
thousands of rightist protesters on Monday from heading toward
Gaza's main Jewish settlement bloc for a march aimed at
impeding the evacuation of the enclaves set for next month.

Israeli officials, citing fears of violent disturbances,
deployed 20,000 police and soldiers to prevent opponents of
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pullout plan from reaching
staging areas in southern Israel.

Settlers and their supporters had vowed to defy a ban on
the protest, which was due to begin on Monday with a mass rally
in the desert town of Netivot and end on Wednesday with a march
to the crossing point to the Gush Katif bloc in occupied Gaza.

But police commander Amihai Shai said a decision was made
"to stop buses at the outset throughout the country ... so that
only a small number reach the south so we can deal with them in
the most effective way and minimise confrontation."

The protest would have meant a major showdown between Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and opponents of his plan, which he has
billed as "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians.

Last Wednesday, Sharon ordered all 21 Gaza settlements
sealed off to non-residents to prevent Israeli
ultranationalists from pouring in to disrupt the planned