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Right-wing Israelis Step Up Protests against Gaza Pullout


Jewish settlers and their supporters are escalating protests against the Israeli government's plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip this summer. Lawlessness in the Palestinian territories is raising questions about who will control Gaza once the Israelis withdraw.

Right-wing Israeli protesters sealed shut 150 public offices, as they stepped up a civil disobedience campaign against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza "disengagement" plan. The protesters used super glue and chains to seal the locks of post offices, courts and other buildings at the beginning of the work week. Police say five 16-year-old suspects were arrested.

Settlement activist Israel Meidad.

"Well, at the present moment I think that we could say that first of all we are fighting for democracy, which means that people have a voice," he said. "We don't want to have the government's policies completely override the people's right to protest."

The protests came as hawks in Mr. Sharon's ruling Likud party launched a last-ditch campaign to try to stop the pullout, in which 21 Gaza settlements will be dismantled and eight-thousand Jews removed from their homes. Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens of the Likud says the withdrawal will harm Israeli security.

"I see nothing to compensate for the traumatic experience that we will go through, nothing to compensate for pulling people out of their homes, there's nothing to be gained," Mr. Arens says.

The Likud hawks are warning that Gaza will become a terrorist enclave once Israel pulls out.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas wants Israel to coordinate the withdrawal with him, saying he will maintain law and order. But so far, Mr. Abbas has failed to seize control of the streets from militant groups. In the West Bank town of Nablus, gunmen raided two Palestinian Authority buildings, demanding guarantees that they won't be disarmed. And in Gaza, militants briefly abducted a Palestinian diplomat.

These acts of lawlessness play on Israeli fears that once the army pulls out, Gaza will plunge into chaos.

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