Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Friday he had no regrets about his plan to evacuate settlers from the territory despite deep divisions in the Jewish state. There are two days left until the Gaza pullout. Sharon's published remarks followed a mass rally on Thursday by 150,000 rightists in central Tel Aviv, the largest demonstration by Israelis seeking to block the withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip set to begin on Wednesday.
Months of protests, road blockades and acts of sabotage have failed to keep Sharon from overcoming political and legal hurdles en route to removal of all 21 Gaza settlements under his plan for "disengaging" from conflict with Palestinians.
"I have no regrets," Sharon told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. "Even if I had known ahead of time the extent of resistance, I would have done it anyway."
Polls show a majority of Israelis favour quitting Gaza, where 8,500 Jews live isolated from 1.4 million Palestinians. But opponents say a withdrawal rewards a Palestinian uprising and betrays Jewish claims of a biblical birthright to the land, according to Reuters.
On other hand, Hamas fighters said Friday they would not disarm, despite Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, so they could carry on pressing Israel to withdraw from more lands. "Arms is a holy issue. It is impossible for us to abandon our arms even if we all get killed. The issue of arms is not one for discussion," the head of Hamas' Qassam Brigades, Ahmed Al-Ghandour, told reporters in Gaza.
Al-Ghandour stressed Hamas would not join any Palestinian security agencies. "We will preserve our structure and increase our force and we will not join any [security] services," Al-Ghandour said. Another leader, Abu Ubaida, said: "This is a message to the Israeli enemy that resistance will continue and that the removal of the occupation was a result of this resistance that will continue. We will maintain and preserve the arms of resistance and we will increase our force and arms to liberate all of the Palestinian land. Palestine is not only Gaza," Al Bavara informs.
The Ilyushin 20 (Il-20) military electronic reconnaissance aircraft of the Russian Air Force with 14 servicemen on board that went off radar screens off the coast of Syria was shot down by Syrian air defense systems over the Mediterranean Sea