JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) issued a stern warning Wednesday to Jewish settlers who try to thwart his planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search), saying the government would use "all our might" to carry out the pullout.
It was the first time Sharon implied he would use a heavy hand against Israeli settlers who resist the pullout, which is to begin in July. He stopped short of openly advocating military force.
In what the military said was the first instance of a soldier's refusal to obey an evacuation order, an Israeli soldier was sentenced to 28 days in an army lockup Wednesday for encouraging comrades to defy an order to pull out of a settlement outpost in the West Bank.
Sgt. Yossi Pilant called on fellow soldiers not to obey an order to dismantle two structures at the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Mitzpe Yitzhar, the military said.
Gunfire erupted at an Israeli-Gaza checkpoint, meanwhile, leaving two armed Palestinians dead. Separately, two Palestinian rockets landed in an Israeli army base in southern Israel, wounding 12 soldiers, the army said.
Sharon won an important political victory Wednesday when the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party decided to join his reshuffled government, giving him a parliamentary majority for the first time since summer.
With UTJ, the moderate Labor and his own Likud, Sharon's new team will have 66 of the 120 seats in parliament. His hard-line coalition fell apart over opposition to his plan to withdraw from Gaza and part of the West Bank next summer.
Sharon said he hopes to present his new government to the parliament next week, assuring a Cabinet majority in favor of his plan.
"I believe that already next week I can present the parliament a new coalition that will lead the state of Israel," Sharon told a Likud Party meeting.
Addressing Israeli soldiers, Sharon cited violent scenes this week of Jewish settlers resisting evacuation from a tiny outpost in the West Bank.
"Those who raise a hand against a soldier or a police officer or a security officer ... we will act against him with all our might," Sharon said.
On Monday, dozens of settlers from the northern West Bank threw rocks and shouted curses at soldiers, and some tried to prevent them from knocking down two temporary buildings at the outpost. Several settlers and a soldier were hurt, and a soldier fired his rifle in the air, the military said.
Under Sharon's withdrawal plan, all 8,200 Jewish settlers in Gaza, along with 600 settlers from four West Bank enclaves, are to be uprooted from their homes.
Jewish settlers have promised mass resistance. A small number of settlers and rabbis have urged soldiers to disobey the evacuation orders.
Sharon described calls to resist orders a "crime against Israeli society."
"Those who call for defying orders or for forcibly or violently opposing are subversive, mistaken and endanger our actual existence in this place," he said.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon will pursue all legal means to enforce the pullout and take steps in advance, including arrests and imprisonment of dissenters, and possible confiscation of settlers' weapons, to ensure that force will be unnecessary.
Some Cabinet members have said opponents suspected of violence should be detained without charge — an emergency measure usually used for suspected Palestinian militants.
Military and legal officials will meet within days to decide on a policy, the official said.
Settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein accused Sharon of launching a smear campaign against the settler movement. "The prime minister is a provocateur. He is doing things to make the settlers hated by the nation of Israel," Wallerstein said.
Before dawn Wednesday, gunfire was exchanged at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza as a Palestinian group was about to cross en route to Mecca for the Islamic hajj pilgrimage. About 400 pilgrims were stuck at the checkpoint for hours before returning home.
The army said the incident began after a Palestinian detonated an explosive and threw grenades at an Israeli army officer, who killed him. Three Palestinian police officers were wounded. Later Wednesday, the Israelis handed over the body of a second militant killed in the attack.
In other violence, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets into an Israeli army base in southern Israel, wounding 12 soldiers, one seriously, the army said.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas (search), the leading Palestinian presidential candidate, campaigned in the West Bank city of Hebron. Thousands thronged a hotel to get a glimpse of him.
Abbas pledged to follow the path of the late Yasser Arafat and lead the Palestinians to an independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Polls show Abbas with a huge lead over his nearest rival, democracy activist Mustafa Barghouti (search), in the Jan. 9 election to replace Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. But analysts say Abbas needs about two-thirds of the vote to be able to claim even part of Arafat's emotional and political following.