As the August pullout from Gaza nears, the tensions between its opponents and Israeli forces have been heightening. A march of pullout opponents aimed at the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip is going to become a crucial test run for Israeli authorities, who plan to block the demonstration with 20,000 troops.
Settler leaders and police said they expected tens of thousands of participants Monday, in what could be the largest protest yet against the pullout. The crowd is to assemble in the southern Israeli town of Netivot, for the first leg of a three-day march to Gaza, 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.
Some 12,000 police and 8,000 soldiers were being deployed throughout southern Israel to stop the crowd before it reaches Gaza, said police spokesman Avi Zelba, reports the AP. "It won't be easy," Zelba said.
The marchers would be allowed to complete the first segment, of about 8 kilometers (5 miles), to the farming village of Kfar Maimon, a security official said, citing a preliminary police plan. The marchers would not be permitted to go on once they reach Kfar Maimon on Monday evening, the official said on condition of anonymity, because the work plan was still awaiting final approval.
Meanwhile, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip kept up rocket and mortar fire on Israeli targets on Monday despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's vow to do his utmost to prevent further attacks, reports Reuters. The Islamist faction Hamas and other groups fired about a dozen mortars at Jewish settlements in Gaza and at least one makeshift rocket into southern Israel.
According to Reuters, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled a quick trip to the region this week to try to keep the Gaza pullout on track, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appeared headed for a showdown with rightist protesters opposed to his "disengagement" plan.
Egyptian officials arrived for talks in Gaza City in an effort to halt rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants that continued for the fourth straight day. The Egyptian officials met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza City and with representatives of Hamas to shore up the tottering truce, says Chicago Tribune.
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