PM: We must stop rampage using all means
The government must take "every measure" necessary to end acts of violence and road blocking by right-wing extremists, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview with Haaretz last night.
"The battle now is not over the disengagement plan, but over the image and future of Israel, and under no circumstances can we allow a lawless gang to try to take control of life in Israel," he said. "The country's citizens must understand this danger, and every measure must be taken to end this rampaging."
Sharon's remarks came at the end of a day in which disengagement opponents throughout the country clashed with both the security forces and Palestinians. The events included an attempted lynching of a 16-year-old Palestinian by right-wing extremists in Gaza; clashes with soldiers who came to evacuate the extremists' Tal Yam stronghold on the Mawasi coast, near the Gush Katif settlement bloc; and demonstrations that blocked 10 major roads throughout the country.
Commenting specifically on pictures of the extremists stoning the Palestinian youth, Sharon said: "This bothers me exceptionally. This is an act of savagery, vulgarity and irresponsibility. These are not the acts of settlers, but of Kach members, who come mainly from outside [Gaza] ... Such things must be stopped. We cannot let a small group of lawbreakers impose a reign of terror."
He added that he has ordered the police to find the perpetrators and bring charges, and said that he believes the law enforcement authorities understand the gravity of the current situation.
Sharon said he was also particularly incensed when he heard a Kach member say that if the extremists are removed from the Neveh Dekalim hotel where they are currently residing, "we will set the country on fire."
"What is this, you'll set the country on fire? By what right? What right?" he demanded in a choked voice. "These things must be utterly uprooted."
Earlier in the day, he also lashed out at his cabinet, charging that other ministers were not speaking out strongly enough against the extremists.
Nevertheless, Sharon insisted that he remained optimistic. "We haven't lost our way," he said. "There are momentary difficulties that we need to deal with, and they will be dealt with in the most serious fashion."
Among other measures, senior defense officials told Haaretz that in the coming days, more than 10 restraining orders will be issued barring specific right-wing extremists from entering Gaza, including some of those currently holed up in the hotel in Neveh Dekalim. The first such order was issued on Tuesday, against Itamar Ben-Gvir. The IDF also intends to arrest some of the extremists who have already entered Gaza.
The army also took a first step toward evacuating the Neveh Dekalim hotel yesterday by declaring it a closed military zone, thereby making it illegal for anyone to continue residing there. This gives the army a legal basis for forcibly removing anyone who refuses to leave voluntarily. It is not yet clear how long the army will give the squatters to decide whether or not to leave voluntarily.
As the date of the disengagement approaches, the authorities are also considering putting some prominent extremists into administrative detention. Until now, due to the fact that both the Justice Ministry and the Shin Bet security service are reluctant to take this step, only one right-wing extremist has been put into detention: Neria Ofan of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, who is suspected of planning terror attacks against Arabs.
However, it is not clear whether Sharon would support administrative detentions. In last night's interview, he said: "I'm not a fan of this. There are enough [other] means."
The defense establishment is also worried that the recent spate of shooting attacks in the West Bank, which have killed three Israelis in the last 10 days, will rouse a suspected Jewish terror cell to new activity. The cell is believed to have killed seven Palestinians during the first two years of the intifada, and if Palestinian terror picks up, it may decide to launch revenge attacks against Palestinian civilians - especially given the background of the impending disengagement.
The Shin Bet has been keeping tabs on suspected members of the cell, but has thus far not succeeded in convicting anyone of involvement in the fatal attacks.