Pullout foes cancel Ofakim rally, try to get convoy into Gaza
Police officers leave Negev town of Ofakim; IDF: 600-800 people have infiltrated Gaza recently.
Settler leaders on Thursday decided to send a convoy of vehicles from the Negev town of Ofakim to the Gaza Strip in an attempt to enter the area illegally via dirt paths and side roads to protest the pullout.
Settler leaders decided to send the convoy instead of holding a protest rally in Ofakim, followed by an attempted march on the Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif. They held a rally in the same town Wednesday night, after which police blocked the Gaza march.
An army official told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Thursday that an estimated 600-800 people had infiltrated the Strip in the last few days.
Settlers plan to continue sending people into the Strip next week as well, despite military orders closing off the area to non-resident Israelis.
Only a few hundred right-wing activists and police officers remained in the Ofakim area Thursday afternoon, after most of the thousands of protesters who had been there the night before left the area. In the evening, Southern District commander Uri Bar-Lev ordered the remaining police officers to leave the Ofakim region.
However, many police officers will continue to guard the roadblocks leading to Gush Katif in an attempt to prevent infiltrations.
Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said Thursday the Ofakim protest would continue to be legal only until 11 A.M. Friday. If protesters are still in the area at that point, he said, police will hold a meeting to discuss whether to evacuate them by force.
Pullout protesters said they planned to take a break of several hours Friday and would spend the Sabbath in Ofakim. Organizers plan to call for pullout opponents to return to the town Saturday night and Sunday in order to renew protests and infiltration efforts.
Some 200 protesters at the Kissufim crossing on the Gaza border clashed periodically Thursday morning with security forces and attempted to break through the crossing and head to Gush Katif.
IDF officer: Infiltrators endangering their livesA senior Israel Defense Forces officer told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that the young pullout opponents attempting to enter Gaza illegally were endangering their lives.
An infiltration warning near Nisanit overnight put all IDF forces in the area on high alert. Troops were called to the scene and, just before they opened fire, it became clear the infiltrators were pullout opponents and not Palestinian gunmen.
Colonel Yossi Morali, commander of the IDF's northern Gaza brigade, told the radio he fears a disaster. He noted this was not the first incident of its kind. Morali said some of the infiltrators arrested in Nisanit overnight were 10- and 11-year-old children who did not understand what was going on. One of the children collapsed during the events.
On Wednesday night, an IDF armored vehicle overturned while in pursuit of pullout opponents who were trying to enter the Gaza Strip via dirt roads. There were no casualties caused in the accident.
Police Southern District Commander Major General Uri Bar-Lev told settler leaders and rabbis Wednesday night that they were not to go beyond Peduyim junction on the outskirts of Ofakim and approach the Gaza Strip.
Thousands of protesters slept at the junction, Israel Radio reported, while police and army units encircled the area to ensure no infiltrators leave the site en-route to the Gaza Strip.
After the IDF vehicle flipped overnight during a chase, Bar-Lev announced he would order dozens of buses to evacuate the protesters at sunup. Police say this is why the settlers agreed to go back to Ofakim.
Early Thursday morning, many of the pullout opponents headed back to their base of operations at Ofakim. Yesha Council official Tzvi Bar-Hai told the protesters at Peduyim Junction that due to harsh conditions at the site, the rally organizers have decided to return to Ofakim and prepare to continue the demonstration.
Shortly after 6 A.M., a settler rabbi at the junction called to the demonstraters using a loudspeaker, instructing them to wake up and make their way back to the Negev town. He said morning prayers would be held there, rather than on the road at Peduyim junction.
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