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A three-justice High Court panel headed by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak yesterday rejected a petition against the use of Israel Defense Forces soldiers to close off areas around the Gaza Strip that are within the Green Line. Barak wrote in the ruling, "The rule of law is being tested, and the nature of Israel as a democracy is being tested."

"We are now in the decisive phase of the disengagement," wrote Barak. "The historic approach and the traumatic approach are being fully expressed."

Barak and justices Ayala Procaccia and Salim Joubran ruled that IDF soldiers may be used for this purpose under emergency defense regulations that allow security forces to search for, capture and arrest anyone suspected of attempting to illegally enter the Strip. The High Court said that authority to deploy IDF soldiers on Israeli territory derives from a 1995 regulation allowing the IDF to be deployed to achieve the country's national security objectives.

"The implementation of the disengagement plan is a national security objective," wrote Barak. "The IDF soldiers assisting in fulfilling the government and Knesset [decisions] are the arm of Israeli democracy. They guard its walls."

Meanwhile, the head of the Gaza Coast Regional Council, Avner Shimoni, submitted an urgent petition to the High Court yesterday, saying the government is violating the terms of the Evacuation Compensation Law and an earlier High Court ruling and calling for the evacuation to be delayed until the government "formulates in a final manner the arrangements for dealing with residents slated to be uprooted, in the intermediate phase and in the permanent arrangement phase."

Other petitioners include the head of the Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai, Rabbi Yishai Bar-Chen, and the nonprofit organization Let the Animals Live.

Bar-Chen wants the government to refrain from evacuating the synagogues in the Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim, saying such a move would contradict the principles of international justice and of the heritage of Israel.

"Synagogues have much religious, historical, cultural and artistic value," said Bar-Chen, adding that the cabinet decision, "which related to the destruction of the synagogues as incidental, contradicts the basic principles of Israeli law."