By Mark Osborn
The Israeli government plans to withdraw 9,000 settlers and the troops that protect them from the Gaza Strip in mid-August.
Israel will maintain control of Gaza’s borders, coastline and airspace.
As the pull-out nears Ariel Sharon’s Israeli government is facing mobilisations from right-wing settlers who oppose the withdrawal.
A mass protest began on Monday 18 July and ended on 20 Wednesday 20. They wanted to march into the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip, via the Kissufim border crossing, but were stopped by police. The protesters are, as we write, heading home.
The government’s worry was that the demonstrators would try to break through the roadblocks around the Gaza Strip and reinforce the Gush Katif settlements, who have so far refused all offers of compensation to move out of Gaza.
Meanwhile Israeli police arrested two soldiers suspected of planting a fake bomb in Jerusalem’s central bus station last week, in protest at the disengagement. Nine Israeli soldiers refused on Saturday night to follow orders and participate in an operation to prevent Israeli citizens from entering the Gaza Strip. A soldier was tried and jailed yesterday for 21 days after giving an interview to Channel 2 television and denouncing the army’s behaviour toward the settlers.
In the last few days over 100 crude missiles from Hamas have landed in and around Gaza. Israel has responded by massing troops and tanks on the Israel/Gaza border. Sharon has promised a “strong and harsh” response if the attacks do not stop, threatening a major invasion of Palestinian areas. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says he will “do his utmost” to stop the mortar attacks. But Abbas has relatively little control over the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is much stronger than Fatah.
Israel has resumed targeting Palestinian militants following the bombings and after a suicide bomber killed four Israelis in the town of Netanya on Tuesday 12 July. And meanwhile Israel continues to solidify its system of checkpoints within the West Bank, to atomise and intimidate the Palestinians.
Israel should get out of Occupied Territores, both Gaza and West Bank now, and let the Palestinians have an independent state of their own, alongside Israel.