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Israel Issues Warning to Disengagement Opponents

Israeli officials issued stern warnings to those seeking to disrupt the upcoming evacuation from Gaza, saying some are crossing the line between protest and terror.

A handcuffed opponent of Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank holds an orange ribbon, the colour adopted as symbol of the anti-disengagement movement
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that the army would deal harshly with soldiers who refuse to obey orders to dismantle Jewish settlements in Gaza when the time comes.

The disengagement is to begin mid August and last up to four to six weeks.

Speaking on Army Radio, Mr. Mofaz also said the military could close off the Gaza settlements at any time, if necessary.

He warned the military would close off the settlements if there are signs that opponents are moving in from outside Gaza in an effort to hinder the security forces from implementing the withdrawal.

The army briefly closed off the Gaza settlements earlier this month in an effort to stem the flow of right-wing and religious extremists flocking into the area to make it a stronghold of resistance to the disengagement.

The protests have ranged from violence against soldiers and Palestinians to planting fake explosive devices and staging street protests on major thoroughfares, severely snarling traffic in the process.

Late Monday, Jerusalem's central bus station was shut down after a suspicious package was found in one of the restrooms. Hundreds of passengers were evacuated from the building and traffic was halted around the station. The bomb was later determined to be fake.

Israel's Interior Minister said those who had planted the device had crossed the line between protest and terror.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav said he is deeply concerned about the increasingly harsh rhetoric and actions by disengagement opponents.

Speaking to reporters at his residence in Jerusalem, President Katsav said while most of the opponents of the withdrawal are law abiding, there is a small minority that is calling for action and making statements that are irresponsible and dangerous. He said that minority includes some rabbis who are calling for soldiers to disobey orders.