Extremists forced out of Gaza hotel

Israeli police remove 150 Jews opposing pullout

July 01, 2005|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Hundreds of Israeli police officers raided a hotel in a Gaza Strip settlement yesterday and evicted about 150 Jewish extremists who had barricaded themselves in the building to resist a planned Israeli withdrawal from the territory.

The raid came a day after militant Jews badly wounded a Palestinian teenager in a stone-throwing clash in the area, a mob assault shown on television that drew strong condemnation from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and across the Israeli political spectrum.

"We will deal severely with such phenomena because they threaten our very existence here as a Jewish and democratic state," Sharon said in a speech. He called the militants "extremist gangs who are trying to strike terror in Israeli society and tear it to shreds through violence against Jews and Arabs."

Before the raid, the army declared the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, citing plans by other extremists to come to the area to bolster resistance to the pullout. The closure makes the Gaza settlements off-limits to all Israelis who do not live or work in the enclaves.

Movement between settlements was blocked during the raid, which was described by some commentators as a preview of the planned evacuation of all 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza, scheduled to begin in mid-August.

A force of 700 officers, including border police and SWAT teams, scaled ladders and broke down doors in the Palm Beach Hotel, going room to room to haul off the extremists - many of them teenagers and parents with small children - who put up little resistance.

A few youths struggled with the officers, kicking and screaming as they were carried to waiting buses, but many went limp as they were carried away, and others walked out. The eviction was completed in half an hour.

"The mission we took upon ourselves was carried out smoothly, without casualties and in a very short time," said Uri Bar-Lev, chief of the southern district of the Israeli police.

Some protesters manacled their hands or chained themselves to the hotel building in a show of nonviolent resistance. Others chanted "Jews don't expel Jews" Tires were set on fire in a vain effort to impede the police.

"Refuse orders," Nadia Matar, a leader of the extremists, shouted at officers who carried her off as she held a small child with a baby bottle. "This is a disgrace."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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