JERUSALEM – Settlers in Gaza set up a makeshift outpost Monday on the rubble of buildings the military knocked down the day before, saying they were preparing to take in thousands of withdrawal resisters.
Police across the country were bracing for massive traffic snarls as opponents of Israel's Gaza Strip (search) pullout planned to descend on major roads to protest the withdrawal.
Israeli soldiers scuffled with settlers Sunday in the first military operation of the pullout, giving a preview of the trouble liable to erupt when the forcible evacuation of 9,000 settlers in Gaza and the northern West Bank (search) begins in mid-August.
With the pullout approaching, opponents of the plan have increasingly stepped up their protests, snarling traffic at busy intersections on several occasions in recent weeks. Avi Zelba, a police spokesman, said thousands of police were to be mobilized Monday to minimize disruptions.
The Yesha Settlers Council (search), which was organizing the protest, said it expected 100,000 demonstrators to line the sides of major arteries, but that the intent was not to block traffic.
But it acknowledged that past protests, in which activists blocked roads with burning tires, have caused major traffic jams. It blamed rogue groups and individuals for the disruptions. In the Tel Aviv suburb of Raanana, police located a stash of tires they suspect were for the protest.
"I'm afraid it won't be the only stash of tires that will be found," Zelba said.
The protest was scheduled to last just 15 minutes, beginning at the evening rush hour.
Settlers have protested the pullout since it was announced more than a year ago and have threatened to bring in reinforcements to try to thwart it.
On Sunday, the military knocked down abandoned buildings on the Gaza coast, acting on reports that pullout opponents had planned to move into the structures to reinforce resistance.
Overnight, several dozen youths from Gaza settlements and towns in Israel set up a makeshift tent on the rubble and occupied an abandoned Palestinian building nearby.
Settler Arik Yitzhaki said settlers planned to build three tent cities in the area and to bring in thousands of supporters to bolster the withdrawal resistance. Yitzhaki said settlers have already bought thousands of tents and provisions in preparation for the resistance.
The army declined to comment on the outpost or say whether the military planned to evacuate the youths there. But soldiers were at the site Monday.
One of the youths, who would identify himself only as 18-year-old Shmuel from Jerusalem, said, "If they demolish houses to prevent Jewish settlement, then we will occupy Palestinian houses that are bigger and better."
The demolition operation Sunday laid bare the problems Israeli authorities expect once the withdrawal begins.
Settlers — most of them Orthodox Jewish teens — shouted catcalls at soldiers, chanted, "Jews don't expel Jews," and climbed on and under bulldozers to try to block them. Soldiers dragged them out one at a time. Neither side resorted to arms or real violence, and the military said 10 protesters and 10 troops were injured, none of them seriously.
Five protesters were arrested, and a soldier was disarmed and taken away after shouting his support for the demonstrators, the military said.
Security officials have warned that during the actual evacuation, extremist settlers could open fire, and the military might be forced to use live fire to complete the pullout. They are also worried that some soldiers opposed to the withdrawal will disobey orders to evacuate settlers.
The army is also concerned about Palestinian attacks, though Palestinian officials have pledged to maintain calm during the operation.
Still, Palestinian attacks have continued. Islamic Jihad militants said they fired six homemade rockets on two settlements Monday morning, in response to Israeli threats to target Islamic Jihad leaders. The Israeli army reported three mortar attacks on Gaza settlements and no injuries.