IDF, police preparing to raid Gush Katif hotel housing extremists
Settler leadership planning mass 'engagement march' on areas slated to be sealed off before pullout.
The security establishment has decided to raid the Maoz Yam Hotel in the Gaza Strip settlement of Neveh Dekalim soon, rather than wait until the disengagement plan is under way.
Leaders of the approximately 30 families and singles who have moved to the hotel to express their opposition to the pullout said Thursday they have begun preparing for an anticipated nighttime raid, after having been informed that several police units met to discuss the raid on Thursday. Due to rumors of an impending raid, dozens of settlers arrived at the hotel last night to bolster the presence of those already living there.
But police appeared Thursday night to have temporarily frozen any immediate plans for the raid after the information was leaked to settlers and to the press. Security sources said police and the Israel Defense Forces will wait for a suitable opportunity to carry out the raid in the near future.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have met with Defense and Justice Ministry officials in the last few weeks to discuss how to deal with the residents of the hotel, which has come to be considered an extremist outpost.
At first, many officials advised against raiding the hotel at this stage, preferring to leave it alone until all the other Gaza settlements have been evacuated. They argued that it was better for most of the extremists to congregate at one venue, thereby making it harder for them to provoke radical activity in other areas.
But developments in the past week have changed that analysis. Several hotel residents assaulted and opened fire on a group of Palestinians from the neighboring Muasi area, wounding four of them, on Saturday. The security establishment also has learned that the hotel residents are collecting weapons there, with most of the men armed, and have come up with several plans to oppose the disengagement.
The official reason for raiding the hotel before the disengagement is that several of the residents suspected of Saturday's attack are wanted for questioning.
The residents' opposition to the raid is expected to lead to a number of arrests and closure of the site.
Many people who live in the Gush Katif settlement bloc have reservations about the hotel, saying its residents are making all settlers appear radical and violent.
80,000 to join 'engagement march'Some 80,000 disengagement opponents have agreed to join a Yesha Council campaign to attempt reaching those settlements slated for evacuation after the army closes them off to non-residents, according to the settlement council.
The council expects even more anti-pullout activists to participate in the campaign, which is set to start at the beginning of next month. That is when the northern West Bank settlements slated for evacuation will be closed off, the council said. Settlement leaders expect non-residents to be barred from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the middle of next month, about a month before the pullout is scheduled to begin.
The Yesha campaign, which represents the peak of grassroots anti-pullout activism, may begin before the settlements are closed off if the IDF delays the closure until right before the evacuation.
The Yesha Council is asking pullout opponents to reach the settlements by car or foot. Campaign organizers said they expect police and IDF forces to stop them before they get near the settlements. The marchers will be instructed to create a blockade wherever they are stopped, and then to continue trying to reach the settlements, even at the risk of being arrested.
The "engagement march for our brave brethren," as the campaign is called, is slated to take place over at least 10 days. The Yesha Council is calling on disengagement opponents "to march in groups, with leaders responsible for each group, to make sure there is no violence."
The campaign is based on the assumption that only widespread pressure from the people can lead Knesset members to vote in favor of a bill calling for the pullout to be postponed until next year. The bill, which was submitted by MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party), is set to come up for a vote next month.
The Yesha Council has split up responsibility for the campaign among four regional headquarters - north, south, center and Jerusalem and 30 "activity zones." Zviki Bar-Hai, a top figure in the Yesha Council and head of the Southern Hebron Hills Regional Council is leading the campaign. Bar-Hai, who also led the house-to-house campaign to defeat the disengagement plan in last year's Likud referendum and had served as assistant to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will be in charge of all the regional headquarters as well as operations and human resources.