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Israeli Settlers Suspend March Against Gaza Pullout


Jewish settlers and their supporters are vowing to continue the struggle against the Gaza pullout, despite their failure to disrupt it with a mass march on settlements slated for evacuation. The settlers were blocked by a huge force of 17,000 police and soldiers. Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens of the ruling Likud party was among the demonstrators.

"I disagree with the defense minister mobilizing the Israeli army for the task of battling Israeli citizens and wrenching them out of their homes," he said. "I think it is the duty of people like myself, it's their duty to continue to demonstrate their opposition to it."

While Israeli nationalists contemplate defeat, the Palestinians are claiming victory.

Some 10,000 Palestinians carried flags and danced in the streets of Gaza to celebrate the pullout. The early celebration is a bid by the Palestinian Authority to take credit for the withdrawal and upstage its Islamic rivals. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which is vying for power in Gaza, claims that its fighters drove the Israelis out.

Israel plans to dismantle 21 Gaza settlements, but it has different designs on the West Bank. The government announced plans to build 72 housing units in a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem. The move underscores Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy: to get out of Gaza, where 8,000 Jews live among more than a million Palestinians, and to strengthen Israel's grip on the biblical heartland of the West Bank.

The United States has described settlement expansion as a violation of the "road map" peace plan. But construction in the West Bank appeases Israeli hawks, who accuse Mr. Sharon of betraying the Land of Israel.

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