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Israeli Military Says Gaza Settlements to Stay Closed for Now


General view of Jewish settlement of Ganei Tal in Gaza Strip
Israel's military chief says Gaza settlements will remain closed to all non-residents, as long as necessary to prevent mass protests against the government's plan to dismantle them next month. The closure has further angered settlers and their supporters.

Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Thursday the closure imposed on Jewish settlements in Gaza will remain in place for as long as the military deems necessary.

General Halutz told Israel's army radio, the military has the means to maintain the closure indefinitely. He rejected suggestions the timetable for the withdrawal should be moved up and said the pullout would go ahead as scheduled in mid-August.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the closure Wednesday, a move aimed at preventing an increasing number of disengagement opponents from coming to Gaza to bolster the settlers there ahead of mass protest rallies planned for next week.

Gaza settlement council leader, Arieh Shimoni says the settlers will not leave easily.

He says 99 percent of the settlers want to remain in their homes in Gaza and are willing to fight to stay there.

Opponents of the withdrawal have staged numerous protests in recent weeks. Some have turned violent as right-wing extremists clashed with police and with Palestinians in Gaza. Two young settlers were indicted Thursday for attacking a Palestinian teenager during one such clash.

The incident was caught on videotape and shows them throwing stones at the Palestinian youth as he lay unconscious on the ground. The video also shows an Israeli soldier standing over the youth trying to protect him from the stone throwers. The Israeli army commander in Gaza General Dan Harel called the attack an "attempted lynching by hooligans and lawbreakers with no regard for human life."