JERUSALEM – Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (search) decided on Friday to cut the timetable for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank this summer to just up to four weeks in an effort to hinder Jewish extremists bent on disrupting the pullout, officials said.
The withdrawal from all Gaza Strip (search) and four West Bank settlements will begin in July and will take between three to four weeks to complete, the officials said.
Initial military plans for the withdrawal outlined a three month pullout beginning in early July. In February, when Israel's Cabinet approved the evacuation of 25 settlements, Mofaz said the army would aim to complete the withdrawal in eight weeks, but was seeking ways to further shorten the pullout.
Government officials are concerned a prolonged pullout will increase friction and clashes between soldiers and police sent to carry out the evacuation and Jewish settlers who are bitterly opposed to withdrawing from the territory.
In shortening the withdrawal to between three to four weeks, Mofaz hopes to decrease the resistance, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Jewish settler leaders have called on their followers to oppose the evacuation at the risk of going to prison, but say they will only use nonviolent means of resistance.
Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon (search), the army chief of staff, said that the military and other authorities will act against extremist settlers whom they suspect could get violent during the withdrawal.
"We will isolate them and we have to act to isolate them before the withdrawal," Yaalon said in an interview with Israel's Channel 10 television. The isolation will include "distancing them from the area, and also by arrests if necessary," he added.