Israeli soldiers have stormed a beachfront hotel in Gaza to dislodge Jewish extremists. The raid followed a military order to temporarily close Gaza settlements to stop extremists from entering the area.
Hundreds of soldiers and paramilitary police moved in on the derelict Palm Beach Hotel in a move to dislodge Jewish extremist protesters holed up inside.
Israel radio reported the soldiers went room to room in the hotel in their search, dragging out the squatters - some of them kicking and screaming. The protesters were then loaded onto buses.
Hundreds of Jewish religious and nationalist extremists, mostly from West Bank enclaves converged on Gaza in recent weeks. They took over the dilapidated beachfront hotel as a headquarters for their protest against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank in August.
Nadia Matar of the right-wing group Women in Green was one of the militants inside the hotel. Earlier, she defended their action on Israel radio. "We are going to do the same thing as you would do, if forces would come to your house, take you out of your house and give it over to the Hamas," she said.
Just a few hours before the raid, the army declared Gaza settlements to be "closed military zones", allowing only residents into the area and severely restricting their movement. The army hopes to stop right-wing extremists from entering the area to carry out their anti-disengagement protests.
On Wednesday, the army's attempt to dislodge some of the extremists led to violence as protesters clashed with soldiers and Palestinian residents.
In one instance extremists were shown kicking, beating and stoning a young Palestinian from a nearby home, leaving him seriously injured. The image outraged Ariel Sharon who called the attack an "act of savagery, vulgarity and irresponsibility." He ordered a crackdown to stop the extremists.
The head of the prime minister's office of strategic coordination, Brigadier General Eival Giladi, told journalists that opponents of the disengagement plan have a right to protest, but have gone too far. "I think there is a very clear red line - where you cross the legal threshold when you fight your own institutions. This is something totally unaccepted and we will not let it go," he said.
In an interview with the Haaretz daily, Prime Minister Sharon said the violence is not about opposition to his plan to get out of Gaza, but rather about the image and future of Israel. He added that the government must take "every measure necessary" to end the violence and stop the extremists.