oPt + 1 more

Israeli troops form "human chain" to prevent anti-pullout marchers reaching Gaza

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News and Press Release
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JERUSALEM, Jul 19, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Some 15,000 Israel Defense Forces soldiers and police formed a human chain around the southern Israeli town of Kfar Maimon on Tuesday night in an effort to prevent about 7,000 anti-pullout protesters from marching to the Gaza settlements.
Troops clashed with the protesters who were camped in the town and planned to go ahead Wednesday with the banned march, which is scheduled to last three days until Wednesday.

The clashes came in the wake of a decision by the security forces to encircle and close off the town in order to prevent the demonstrators from continuing with the march toward the Gaza settlements.

Police mobilized all of their forces with officers returning from leaves and working longer shifts to cover duties nationwide as more than 10,000 police and troops seek to prevent demonstrators from breaking through roadblocks.

Fearing the entry of pullout opponents to Gaza in order to obstruct the planned withdrawal next month, the Israeli government last week declared the Gaza Strip off-limits to non-resident Israelis.

Protesters and police traded blows Tuesday night before mounted police moved in to quell the disturbances. Three injured police officers were seen being removed from the scene and 19 demonstrators were arrested.

Earlier in the day, leaders of the Yesha Council, council of Gaza Jewish settlements and organizer of the march, met to discuss the future of the march.

During the meeting, they discussed three options: to continue with the march toward the Gush Katif settlement bloc and thereby face off against security forces, to remain in Kfar Maimon or to hold protests elsewhere around the country.

Yesha announced that it definitely would not urge the marchers to leave Kfar Maimon.

The police said on Tuesday evening that they would not use force to remove the protesters.

Yesha Chairman Benzi Lieberman explained at a briefing Tuesday afternoon that the organizers of the march had prepared a plan of action, which would first have to be approved by a steering committee of rabbis.

"We are preparing a long-term program," said Lieberman, praising the behavior of the marchers over the past few days.

The police had declared earlier that they had no intention of clashing with the protestors.

Israel is scheduled to evacuate all the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four of 120 in the West Bank in mid August. The coming pullout has met with stepped up opposition from ultranationalists and a large number of settlers.