Thousands of Israelis poured into Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip Thursday, marking Israel's Independence Day with protests against Israel's planned evacuation of the Gaza Strip in August.
Settlers and their supporters heard anti-evacuation speakers vow to defeat Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull all 8,500 settlers from Gaza and four small West Bank enclaves. Protesters also dedicated a new synagogue in southern Gaza, in a move apparently aimed at showing their resolve to defeat the pullout plan.
Separately Thursday, Israeli troops arrested more than 20 settlers from two groups that illegally entered two Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli army is drawing up plans for ejecting settlers who resist evacuation orders and for thousands of supporters expected to try to join them in Gaza ahead of the evacuation.
Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.