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Israeli Settlers Vow to Defy Pullout Plan

Palestinians (search) fired rockets Tuesday at a gathering of thousands of Israeli settlers protesting the upcoming Gaza withdrawal, but missed, killing instead a 3-year-old Palestinian boy and wounding nine other Palestinians in Gaza.

Witnesses said militants fired three rockets at the demonstration in the Israeli town of Sderot.

Two of the rockets fell in Palestinian areas and the third fell in an open field near Sderot.
Among the wounded were five children, aged 4 to 11, including four children of Hisham Abdel Razek, a senior official in the ruling Fatah (search) party and a former Palestinian Cabinet minister. Abdel Razek's wife was also injured.

The dead boy was identified as Yasser Adnan Ashkar, who was killed when one of the stray rockets hit his family's home in Beit Hanoun (search), northeast of Gaza City. His 11-year-old brother was in critical condition. Abdel Razek's family was visiting at the time, witnesses said.

A few minutes after the rockets were fired, an explosion was heard outside the Gaza City house of a former Palestinian Cabinet minister, witnesses said. No one was hurt, police said. On Monday, a blast damaged a wall outside the home of the Palestinian Authority's attorney general in Gaza City.

Both officials have been picked by the parliament to investigate widespread corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

In a separate attack Tuesday, Palestinian militants fired a rocket at an Israeli convoy traveling to the isolated settlement of Netzarim, settlers and the army said. There were no reports of injuries.

Militant attacks against Israelis had dropped off after a February truce between Israel and the Palestinians. In recent weeks, however, as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza approaches, militants have stepped up attacks to try to portray the Israeli pullout as a military victory for the Palestinians.

Although the Israelis gathered in Sderot had pledged a peaceful protest, settler leaders said they planned to defy a military order and march to Gaza's settlements Wednesday.

More than 15,000 police and soldiers took up positions in southern Israel to prevent the marchers from reaching Gaza, which has been declared a closed military zone.

The protest march would be the settlers' second effort in two weeks to breech the barricades preventing them from getting into the Gush Katif settlement bloc in southern Gaza. If they fall short again, it would be a devastating blow to the protest movement.

"It is impossible to stop the masses of Israel who have only one goal, to reach Gush Katif and overturn this cruel decree," Gaza settler leader Avner Shimoni told Channel 2 TV Tuesday.

Some of the protesters in Sderot conceded they had little chance to stop the pullout.

"It seems that it is too late," said Alain Bismuth, 40, from the northern town of Haifa. He said he came simply to show there are many Israelis opposed to the plan.

Others still had hope.

"Everything we do changes things," said Shmuel Lax, 30, of Neve Tsuf.

Police estimated 10,000 people were at the rally.

Early Wednesday, police and soldiers blocked a group of women from West Bank settlements who circumvented several roadblocks and approached Gaza. After a tense, noisy confrontation, they were bundled onto a bus and driven away.

Israel plans to pull out of all 21 Gaza Strip settlements and four in the West Bank in mid-August, uprooting about 9,000 settlers. The government says more than half the settlers have agreed to leave voluntarily and expect more to follow before the withdrawal date.

More than 200,000 settlers live in other parts of the West Bank, and their leaders fear the Gaza pullout could be the beginning of further withdrawals from land claimed by the Palestinians.

Observant Jews believe the West Bank is promised to the Jews in the Bible.

On Sunday, the Cabinet will formally vote on the evacuation of the first group of settlements, a government official said. In March, the Cabinet approved the overall withdrawal plan, but agreed to vote again separately before the evacuation of each of four groups of settlements. The pullout is expected to pass easily.