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Protesters Gather to March and Demonstrate at Gaza Strip

While mortar and missile attacks continue in the Gaza Strip, protesters gather to march and demonstrate against Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza in August.

Approximately 20,000 Israeli police and military deployed throughout southern Israel to block what is described as the biggest march yet of opponents to the withdrawal from the Gaza strip.

Marchers gathered at the Israeli town of Netivot before heading to Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Police blocked busloads of protesters from joining the demonstration.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank closed to nonresidents in an effort to keep out protesters, four weeks before Israel's withdrawal is scheduled to begin.

While march organizers say the protest was meant to be non-violent, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says there are greater concerns. "And what these protesters want is not just to express a political view, which is legitimate certainly, but to sit in for weeks and maybe months, and to block the possibility of Israel to carry out its policies."

In June, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem to coordinate the Gaza withdrawal. The withdrawal is an attempt to settle border controversies in the region.

However, a number of Israelis oppose the withdrawal. Recently, Israeli settlers clashed with police over the proposed resettlement. Dozens were injured in the confrontation.

In recent months, some Israelis have moved into empty homes and tents in the Gaza settlements, in anticipation of the marches and protests.

Israel's policy is to remove all settlers and military units from Gaza, but not under fire. Jewish settlements in Gaza and neighboring Israeli towns remain under mortar and missile fire from Palestinian militants.

Egyptian mediators are holding emergency talks with Palestinian militant leaders in an attempt to end the attacks on Israeli targets, and avert Israeli military retaliation.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the region to ensure the Gaza pullout remains on schedule.