Israeli army ejects rightist Jews from Gaza outpost
AL-MAWASI, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Israeli troops smashed their way into a Gaza building on Wednesday and ejected about 30 ultranationalist Jews who seized it as an outpost of resistance to a planned withdrawal from the occupied territory.
Soldiers earlier fired in the air to quell stone-throwing clashes between the rightists squatting in the vacant Palestinian house and Palestinian inhabitants in the al-Mawasi district enclosed by the Gush Katif bloc of settlements.
The violence gave a foretaste of unrest feared when Israel begins evacuating Gush Katif in August under a plan to "disengage" from conflict with the Palestinians.
In the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at what the army described as a rocket and mortar depot, the first such attack since Israel and the Palestinian Authority declared a ceasefire in February.
Residents of the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun said a water pumping facility was hit. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Before the air strike, militants fired more than 20 rockets and mortar bombs at Jewish settlements in Gaza.
In turmoil across Israel, anti-pullout demonstrators blocked main highways in sit-down protests that tied up traffic during the evening rush hour.
Police arrested 150 demonstrators and used water cannon for the first time since such protests began several months ago, dispersing youths blocking the main entrance to Jerusalem.
At the three-storey house in Gaza, the ultranationalists -- mostly religious youngsters -- set fire to tyres to try to keep the soldiers out. The troops summoned a fire-fighting unit and then moved in, arresting the 30 people inside, the army said.
An army spokeswoman said the raid was launched "after a specific security alert about the intention of a (Palestinian) terror organisation to attack the Israelis in the structure".
Ultranationalist graffiti and insults against the Prophet Mohammed had been daubed by Jewish squatters on an outside wall. A yellow flag of the outlawed anti-Arab group Kach waved from the roof of the house.
"I'm a Jew from the Land of Israel. I fear only God," one of the youths in the house told Reuters Television.
In clashes earlier in the day, four Palestinians were injured, one a teenager felled by a rock thrown from close range by a settler, along with one settler and one soldier in the sandy area around the house.
A soldier crouched to shield the seriously hurt Palestinian teenager from settlers nearby before the Palestinian was taken by ambulance to Khan Younis in Palestinian-administered Gaza.
CAMPAIGN INTENSIFIES AGAINST GAZA PULLOUT
Ultranationalists had grabbed two empty houses in al-Mawasi after scuffling with soldiers on Sunday in a failed bid to prevent them razing other empty housing that rightists intended to refurbish as bastions of resistance.
They are part of a spiralling campaign against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's move to scrap all 21 Jewish enclaves in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank to "disengage" from conflict with the Palestinians.
"Jews don't expel Jews," protesters, including children, blocking entrance to Jerusalem shouted before they were hit by the high-pressure water blast.
At one bottleneck in Tel Aviv, police hurled young protesters head-over-heels over a concrete road divider.
"We will not allow a fellowship of gangs to drag the country downhill," a government official quoted Sharon as saying during a cabinet meeting.
Rightists call a Gaza pullout a betrayal of Jewish claims on biblical land and appeasement of Palestinian gunmen.
Palestinians welcome any Israeli withdrawals from lands occupied in the 1967 war. But they suspect Sharon intends to leave Gaza mainly in order to cement Israel's hold on much larger settlements in the West Bank.
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