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Israel Lifts Closure of Gaza Settlements

Jewish settler ties orange ribbon on his head, the color adopted as symbol of anti-disengagement movement
The Israeli military has lifted its closure of Jewish settlements in Gaza, but is keeping some limitations in place to prevent an influx of goods or equipment that might be used for another confrontation with security forces. The move comes a day after troops stormed a Gaza beachfront hotel to evict a group of Jewish right wing extremists intent on spearheading resistance to the government's disengagement plan.

The senior Israeli commander in the area says Thursday's eviction could serve as a model for the actual August withdrawal from Gaza. The operation showed the soldiers and police are ready to move quickly, forcefully and effectively.

On Thursday, security forces ordered about 150 anti-disengagement militants to leave the derelict Palm Beach Hotel, where they'd been holed up for the past several weeks.

Some left willingly, others did not.

Troops moved in, broke down doors and barricades and dragged out the remaining militants, kicking and screaming. The resistance was generally loud, but passive. The squatters were brought out and loaded onto buses.

The whole operation took about 40 minutes.

The abandoned beachfront hotel had become a stronghold of extremist resistance to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle all 21 settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the northern West Bank beginning mid-August.

Opponents of the plan say the disengagement gives up land that the Jews have a biblical right to. Many also say it gives in to the violent uprising staged by Palestinians against Israel over the past four and a half years.

Likud Party lawmaker Uzi Landau is against the disengagement plan. But, he told Israel Radio that extremists in Gaza and elsewhere who've turned to violence are mere thugs and should be brought to justice.

He says their actions have hurt the anti-disengagement cause.

"For the past few weeks the level of support for disengagement [has been] persistently decreasing," he said. "Then, here come these people [the extremists] and they seem to make it very easy for Mr. Sharon just to move public attention to those facts [the violence]."

Some recent opinion polls had shown support for the disengagement plan slipping, but a survey published in Friday's edition of the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper shows a sharp increase in support for the withdrawal. The survey shows that 63 percent of those questioned favor the withdrawal - up from 53 percent three weeks ago. The newspaper cites public disdain for extremist actions - such as blocking traffic on major highways and throwing stones at security forces and Palestinians - for the upswing in support for disengagement.