Israeli settlers threaten violent resistance to withdrawal pullout

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 30-Mar-05 | Author: Donald Macintyre| Source: The Independent

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (R) raises his hand as he votes beside Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the vote on the 2005 budget at the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, March 29, 2005.

Jewish settlers' leaders pledged to take to the streets to stop the evacuation from Gaza this summer, as they faced up to their failure to halt the pull-out by parliamentary means.

Ariel Sharon's far-right opponents in the settlements issued a "no surrender" message as it became clear that the Israeli Prime Minister's expected success in passing his budget through the Knesset would help him avoid the otherwise terminal delay that defeat would have meant for the plan.

A budget delay would have triggered elections and set back Mr Sharon's plans for a commencement of the Gaza withdrawal plan well beyond July.

However Mr Sharon's expected budget success was off-set by threats from settler leaders to mobilise tens of thousands of protesters in what amounts to a campaign of civil disobedience to stop the pullout.

One of them, Pinchas Wallerstein, said he and his colleagues would try to avert violence but warned that the situation might spin out of control. "We don't intend to compromise in the battle," he told Army Radio.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli vice-premier, said he believed protests against the pullout had already peaked and that activists would have trouble organising large rallies now that the political fight had been lost.

But the Yesha Council, the umbrella body representing both Gaza and West Bank settlers, underlined its determination to stop the pullout: "He who believes it is possible to implement the destruction of communities and the expulsion of families is deluding himself," a Council statement said.

The government has given the 8,000 Gaza settlers until 20 July to leave voluntarily in exchange for compensation payments. After that deadline, thousands of police and soldiers will begin removing settlers by force.

Gideon Ezra, the Public Security Minister, said yesterday that an unnamed official from the Yesha Council had recently appealed to him with a suggestion that Gaza settlers' weapons be collected prior to the disengagement as a move aimed at lessening the possibility of violent confrontations.

Meanwhile Arieh Yitzhaki, a resident of the Kfar Yam settlement on Gaza's Mediterranean coast, told Army Radio that navy commandos in rubber boats packed with equipment had been spotted near the settlement.

Mr Yitzhaki said settlers were "building the Jewish army" to foil the withdrawal.