JERUSALEM – Jewish settlers should hand over their weapons before the planned Gaza withdrawal this summer to prevent any chance of bloody confrontations with Israeli troops over the dismantling of settlements, a settler leader said Wednesday.
The proposal by ultranationalist lawmaker Effie Eitam (search) marked the first time a settler leader acknowledged the potential for violence among settlers during the withdrawal.
Eitam and another prominent settler, Bentsi Lieberman (search), said troops should also be barred from carrying firearms at the time.
"Then we will also ask the settler community to freely give up their weapons several days before the [evacuation] so that all of us can enter this struggle with clean hands, and that it will be limited to what can be done democratically," Eitam told Israel Army Radio.
Many Jewish settlers in Gaza and the West Bank are armed, and settler leaders have warned that extremists could be planning to fire on authorities during the withdrawal, set to begin this summer.
Eitam and Lieberman said they hoped to negotiate an agreement on banning weapons with the Israeli police minister.
Also Wednesday, Jerusalem Police Chief Ilan Franco said he would prevent withdrawal opponents from holding an April 10 rally at a disputed Jerusalem holy site. Franco told Israel Radio the protesters posed a security risk.
The site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount (search) and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif (search), or Noble Sanctuary — is revered in both religions. The site is the most sensitive spot in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A Palestinian militant warned Wednesday that he and his band of gunmen would stop observing a truce with Israel if the rally was held.
The militant, who identified himself only as Abu Yousef, his nom de guerre, leads a local Gaza branch of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a violent group with ties to the Palestinians ruling Fatah movement. He spoke at a news conference wearing a mask and carrying an assault rifle.
The debate over weapons came a day after Israel's parliament removed the last legislative obstacle to the withdrawal, passing the state budget by a 58-36 vote and saving Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government from collapse.
Sharon's victory did not carry over into Wednesday. Sharon wanted to appoint three new Cabinet ministers — backers of the pullout — but had to withdraw the proposal when it became clear that the parliament would turn it down.
Had his budget not passed by Thursday, Sharon would have had to resign, undermining prospects for the withdrawal.
With the last hurdle cleared, fears are growing that some settlers could resort to violence to thwart the evacuation set for July.
Lieberman, head of the Yesha Settlers' Council (search), said settlers should store their weapons at home, instead of carrying them when troops arrive to remove them from their homes.
"How to do this? This can be decided through discussions with the security authorities," he said.