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Sharon: Government will carry out withdrawal
Updated: 2005-01-05 20:22

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued a stern warning Wednesday to Jewish settlers who try to thwart his planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, saying the government would use all its might to carry out the pullout.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sits in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, during a special session in Jerusalem Tuesday Jan. 4, 2005. [Retuers]
It was the first time Sharon implied he would use a heavy hand against Israeli settlers who resist the pullout, which is set to begin in July, although he stopped short of openly advocating military force.

In new violence, gunfire erupted at an Israeli-Gaza checkpoint, leaving an armed Palestinian dead. Also Wednesday, two Palestinian rockets landed in an Israeli army base in southern Israel, wounding 12 soldiers, the army said.

Sharon made his comments in an address to Israeli soldiers, saying he was disturbed by violent scenes this week of Jewish settlers resisting evacuation from a tiny outpost in the West Bank.

"Those who raise a hand against a soldier or a police officer or a security officer ... we will act against him with all our might," Sharon told the soldiers.

On Monday, dozens of settlers from the northern West Bank threw rocks and shouted curses at soldiers, and some tried to physically prevent them from knocking down two temporary buildings at the outpost.

In the scuffle, several settlers and a soldier were hurt, and a soldier fired his rifle in the air, the military said.

Under Sharon's withdrawal plan, all 8,200 Jewish settlers in Gaza, along with 600 settlers from four West Bank enclaves, are to be uprooted from their homes.

Jewish settlers have threatened to prevent the dismantling of settlements, promising mass resistance, even at the risk of breaking the law. A small number of settlers and rabbis have urged soldiers to disobey the evacuation orders.

Jewish settler leaders warned earlier this week that the army could face mass insubordination during the evacuation.

Sharon described calls to resist orders a "crime against Israeli society."

"Those who call for defying orders or for forcibly or violently opposing are subversive, mistaken and endanger our actual existence in this place," he said.

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon will pursue all legal means to enforce the pullout.

He said the government would take steps ahead of time, including arrests and imprisonment of dissenters, to ensure that force will not be necessary.

The government's top military and legal officials will meet in the coming days to decide on a policy for dealing with the rebels, the official said.

In new violence, an exchange of fire took place at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza as a group of Palestinians were about to cross through on their way to Mecca for the Islamic hajj pilgrimage. Some 400 pilgrims remained stuck at the checkpoint for several hours before returning home.

The army said the incident erupted after a Palestinian set off an explosive charge and threw grenades at an Israeli army officer, who shot and killed him. Three Palestinian police officers were wounded.

Also, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets into an Israeli army base in southern Israel, wounding 12 soldiers, one seriously, the army said.

Violence in Gaza has heated up in recent weeks, after a brief lull following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in November.

Palestinian militants have attacked Jewish settlements with mortar fire and continued to lob homemade rockets from northern Gaza into southern Israel.

The army has responded with a series of deadly operations, including an offensive into northern Gaza early this week aimed at halting the rocket fire.

At nightfall Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen attacked an Israeli outpost east of Gaza City. In an exchange of fire, one of the attackers was killed, Palestinian hospital officials said.

After Israeli tank shells killed seven Palestinians in response to a mortar barrage on Tuesday, Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate in a Palestinian presidential election, issued his harshest denunciation of Israel.

Polls show Abbas with a huge lead over his nearest rival, democracy activist Mustafa Barghouti, in the election to replace Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority (news - web sites). But analysts say Abbas needs about two-thirds of the vote to be able to claim even part of Arafat's emotional and political following.

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