Israeli soldiers again clashed with young Jewish settlers in Gaza Wednesday during an operation to evict the youths from an outpost. The military is threatening to get tough with extremists who use violence in their protests against Israel's planned disengagement from Gaza.
For the second time this week soldiers scuffled with young settlers during an operation to evict the youths from an abandoned Palestinian building they had taken over near the Jewish settlement of Shirat Hayam.
Speaking on Israel Radio, one of the young settlers, Ro'i Avichai warned this type of action is only the beginning. Ro'i Avichai called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a traitor to the country and his people and warned that if the disengagement plan goes ahead there would be much larger disturbances.
Police had been taking a softer wait-and-see approach with settlers and their anti-disengagement supporters. But, with tensions, heated rhetoric and violence on the rise, the security forces are now taking a tougher line.
General Dan Har El, the commander of the southern region, which includes Gaza, said the group of violent protesters represents a small minority, but would be dealt with. "We know how to deal with these people," warned General Har El. He said the military wants to avoid confrontation but has a plan and would move in to clear out the extremists.
In recent weeks young protesters have set up camp in the settlements in Gaza, taking over an abandoned beachfront hotel from where they vowed to resist the withdrawal.
On Sunday, young settlers clashed with soldiers who were sent to demolish some abandoned buildings along the Gaza coast to prevent protesters from taking them over. On Tuesday and Wednesday, young settlers clashed with nearby Palestinian residents as each side pelted the other with stones.
Police have already arrested several Jewish right-wing extremists in a bid to reduce tensions.
Israeli motorists have also been beset by protest actions.
For the second time this week, motorists faced potential gridlock during Wednesday evening's rush hour as disengagement opponents vowed to block traffic on streets and thoroughfares across the country.
Wednesday morning, some protesters poured oil and nails onto the highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The action was condemned by major settler groups who have called for non-violent protests only.
Prime Minister Sharon warned disengagement opponents on Tuesday against using violence. He said such action threatens the very existence of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. The prime minister vowed the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the northern West Bank would go ahead as planned. The withdrawal is due to begin mid-August.