Settlers vow to reach Gaza
Tension mounts as right-wingers and police reach tentative deal on anti-disengagement protests; However, forces prepare for deployment in southern Israel if further negotiations collapse and protesters try to reach Gaza despite a military closure; Police officials say the rightists agreed to disburse after holding a rally and spending the night in an Israeli town, but settler leader Benzi Lieberman denies any such deal was made and vows protesters will march to 'the aid of their 'brothers' in Gush Katif
TEL AVIV - Right-wingers are expected to flock by the thousands on Tuesday and gather in two southern Israeli towns before embarking on their second attempt to reach Gaza settlements ahead of Israel's planned pullout from the area this month, despite a military closure.
Israeli forces have allowed them to go through with their plans to hold a mass demonstration against the disengagement in the town of Sderot and spend the night in the city of Ofakim.
"The deal will allow us to hold a vigil at Sderot between the hours of 6:30 to 9:30 pm, and from there, we will leave in an organized fashion, either by car or by bus, to Ofakim," Yesha settler council chief Benzi Lieberman told Ynet.
Police officials say protest leaders had agreed to disperse on Friday, but Lieberman denied such a deal was made and vowed that the protesters would march to Gaza to help fortify it ahead of the pullout.
"There was never such talk. From Ofakim, we will continue to march to the aid of our brothers in Gush Katif," Lieberman said, adding that demonstrators would not protest violently or confront police.
Police and settler leaders plan to continue their negotiations.
Meanwhile, several buses carrying police officers and IDF troops are arriving in Sderot for the anti-pullout rally.
The security establishment is preparing for the arrival of thousands of pullout objectors and has therefore decided that forces would deploy in the southern city ahead of time.
Such a march would mark the second organized attempt by tight-wingers to reach Gush Katif, Gaza's largest settlement bloc, since a military closure was imposed on the territory last month to stop ultranationalists from flocking to it ahead of the planned withdrawal from all 21 settlements in Gaza, set to start on August 17.
Should talks fail, thousands of forces plan to deploy around the Gaza border and close off several southern Israeli roads to ensure infiltrations by non-residents of the territory do not occur.
Forces clashed with thousands of pullout foes last month when they sealed them inside the southern village of Kfar Maimon, where they had gathered ahead of their first planned march to Gush Katif.
Right-wing activists told Ynet that “with all due respect to the Yesha Council,” they did not feel obligated by any agreement with the police, and will still march towards Gush Katif.
“Nothing’s changed from our perspective. We hold the Yesha Council with high regard. They play an important role, but its clear to everyone that they can’t lead this struggle alone, because they are tied to the powers that be and they are not built for a determined fight,” said an activist who attended the meeting.
Settlers and right-wingers consider the West Bank and Gaza to be their biblical birthright and say any Israeli pullout from the territories would reward Palestinian terror. Palestinians want the territories as part of a future state.
Police say hundreds of disengagement opponents have managed to infiltrate into Gaza in recent months despite the closure. Settler leaders say the
number is higher.
But Sharon said on Monday that half of the settlers set to be evacuated have already signed compensation deals with the government to leave their homes ahead of the pullout. About 13 settler families from Gaza moved into a new caravan-"villa" park in the southern town of Nitzanim on Sunday.
The prime minister says an Israeli "disengagement" from Gaza, where about 9,000 Jewish settlers live among some 1.3 million Palestinians, would be more beneficial for Israeli security.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told settler leaders on Monday that the protest in Sderot could endanger lives due to the threat from Qassam rocket attacks from
Gaza terrorists. He asked them to "show responsibility."
Frustrated with months of attacks, residents of Sderot, including Mayor Eli Moyal, have voiced more and more support for the settlers' struggle against the disengagement, and have prepared a gala welcome for the protesters.
"Dozens of families from Gush Katif are our family," said a Sderot resident who refused to be named. "We all come under terror attacks like rockets and mortar bombs. They are our brothers."