Published June 30, 2005
PALM BEACH HOTEL, Gaza Strip – Hundreds of Israeli soldiers raided a Gaza Strip hotel Thursday to remove about 150 Jewish extremists who barricaded themselves inside several weeks ago to protest Israel's planned Gaza pullout.
About 10 busloads of soldiers and paramilitary police raided the Palm Beach Hotel (search) and went room-to-room to remove the extremists, who had stockpiled food and surrounded the hotel with barbed-wire fences. Some squatters were carried out by soldiers holding each limb, and arrests were reported.
No one resisted violently, but several squatters burned tires in protest, with smoke billowing from the hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The opponents were being loaded onto buses by the soldiers.
[FOX News learned Thursday that two, maybe three Israeli soldiers had been reported missing after last being seen in a Palestinian refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus.]
In an interview published Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) said he ordered police to crack down on the extremists.
"This bothers me exceptionally. This is an act of savagery, vulgarity and irresponsibility," Sharon told the Haaretz daily newspaper. "The country's citizens must understand this danger, and every measure must be taken to end this rampaging."
The army declared the area around the hotel a closed military zone Wednesday. The entire Gaza Strip was declared a closed military zone Thursday after violent confrontations between security forces and opponents of the plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer.
Israeli radio reporters inside the hotel said soldiers were going room-to-room, and the protesters were not resisting.
Some extremists inside the hotel belong to the outlawed Kach (search) movement. The squatters are mostly from hard-line enclaves in the West Bank and not from Gaza settlements slated for evacuation.
One woman who was in the hotel with her husband and children told Israel Radio she lost track of her 7-year-old son during the chaos.
"I lost my whole family in the Holocaust. What did we come here for? What did we build a family for?" said the woman, who gave her last name as Drori and held her 1-year-old baby in her arms.
"I am begging you ... leave us here. We came to strengthen a strong nation."
Declaring Gaza a closed military area allows the army and police to remove anyone without a resident permit, a tactic allowing greater martial control over the Gaza. Officials said they reserved the right to seal off the occupied territory, saying the decision to do so would depend on the level of unrest.
Gaza's Jewish settlers criticized the army's decision to close off the area.
"Why are they disturbing our daily life? People have to go out, work, carry on their day-to-day routine," said Debbie Rosen, a resident of the Neve Dekalim (search) settlement. "This is totally senseless."
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, a group of about 50 Gaza pullout opponents blocked a main thoroughfare, a day after hundreds of protesters shut down several main highways throughout the country.
Extremists clashed with soldiers and Palestinians before being evicted from a house they commandeered on the Gaza seashore Wednesday.
A Palestinian youth was seriously wounded when some of the Jewish youths cornered him, threw stones at him and beat him unconscious. The incident was caught on film and sparked widespread condemnation across Israel.
Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra (search) said police were doing all they could to apprehend those behind Wednesday's violence, which he called a "lynch" attempt.
The clash in Gaza showed that a handful of violent extremists could change the nature of Sharon's "disengagement" plan, from unarmed soldiers dragging protesting — but otherwise peaceful — settlers from their homes to violent clashes between security forces and extremists bent on foiling the evacuation any way they can.
"The battle now is not over the disengagement plan, but over the image and future of Israel and under no circumstances can we allow a lawless gang to try take control of life in Israel," Sharon told Haaretz.
"What a pathetic country that the prime minister has to give an order to apprehend those who carried out a lynch," Sarid told Israel Radio. "Is there any one in the army or in the police ... who can explain why they were not arrested at the scene?"
Settler leaders also condemned the incident, saying the youths were from a violent fringe group and did not represent the settler movement.
"There is no connection between Judaism and those who carried out this," said lawmaker Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party.
After sunset Wednesday, Palestinians fired several mortar shells at settlements in southern Gaza. A Thai worker was slightly injured, the military said.