JERUSALEM – Settler leaders turned up the rhetoric Friday against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, calling his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and a small part of the West Bank a "Nazi act" and warning it could lead to civil war.
Sharon remained undeterred, saying he would push ahead with the plan despite the vociferous and potentially violent opposition.
Settler leaders charged Friday that Sharon does not have a mandate to carry out the withdrawal and said one consequence would be widespread refusal by soldiers to carry out orders for the mass eviction of settlers.
Under Sharon's plan, about 8,500 settlers would be removed from their homes.
"The other [likely outcome] is definitely a type of civil war," Eliezer Hasdai, head of a regional settlement council, told Israel Radio.
Another prominent settler said Sharon's actions were Nazi-like, in an echo of slurs against Premier Yitzhak Rabin (search) in the weeks before his 1995 assassination by an ultranationalist Jew.
"In the last century, the only ones who expelled Jews because they were Jews were the Nazis," Haggai Ben-Artzi, brother-in-law of finance minister and former premier Benjamin Netanyahu (search), told Israel Radio. "To anyone who does this I say this is a Nazi, anti-Semitic act."
Sharon was not swayed.
"This plan will go ahead regardless, period," Sharon told The Jerusalem Post in an interview published Friday.
Sharon also said Israel can continue building in large West Bank settlement blocs without U.S. opposition if it does so quietly.
While the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan calls for a settlement freeze, Israel believes it has tacit American approval for building within these blocs that it wants to keep in any future peace deal.
U.S. diplomats say publicly that Washington remains committed to the road map. However, Israel's announcement last month that it would build 1,000 new homes in settlements near Jerusalem drew only a muted U.S. response.
"Yes, we can continue building in the large blocs," Sharon said when asked whether he had a quiet understanding with the United States on limited settlement construction.
The issue of Jewish settlement construction is a major irritant in the complex relations among Israel, the United States and the Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank and Gaza for their state and demand that all settlements be removed.
Some Israeli politicians on Friday accused the settlers of deliberately stoking the flames of violent conflict in order to block the withdrawal.
"They have a feeling that their holy war sanctifies all means. It does not," Justice Minister Yosef Lapid (search) told Israel Radio.
"If they rebel or incite they will be brought to justice like any criminal ... and will not be forgiven for causing a civil war," he said.
An entry ban on Palestinians wanting to cross into Israel went into effect at dawn Friday and was expected to last through several Jewish holidays ending in October.
Thousands of Palestinians travel to Israel each day. Military sources said humanitarian cases would still be permitted into Israel for medical treatment and other pressing needs. Also, the officials said, travel between the Palestinian towns would be unaffected.
An Israeli official said Friday that a Palestinian man transporting a 22-pound bomb was caught after trying to slip around a West Bank roadblock.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said soldiers began chasing the man's taxi after it tried to evade a checkpoint outside the city of Nablus on Thursday.
The man, identified as Ibrahim Abu Zahu, threw the bomb out the cab window, the official said. The explosives were safely detonated by troops, and Abu Zahu was arrested.
Violence continued in the northern Gaza Strip for a second day Friday, as troops tried to stop what the military said were continued attempts by Palestinian militants to fire homemade rockets and mortars at Israeli towns.
An activist of the radical Islamic Hamas movement was killed when the army hit militant positions on the edge of Jabaliya refugee camp with rockets from a helicopter and tank fire in separate incidents, the army and witnesses said.
Two other Palestinians were killed in the Jabaliya fighting during the day, including an 18-year-old hit by a tank shell, local medical staff said. The military said troops fired at two armed men, one aiming an anti-tank missile. The army could not confirm if the targets were killed.
More than 50 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were wounded in the Jabaliya fighting, Palestinians and the army said.
The army said Palestinians fired about 20 mortar shells and rockets overnight and that troops uncovered and destroyed three workshops for producing them. Palestinian witnesses said the army destroyed a technical school and a center for the handicapped.