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Israeli commandos storm Gaza hotel

Reuters | June 30, 2005

GUSH KATIF, Gaza Strip - Israeli police commandos stormed a hotel in a Gaza settlement on Thursday to eject radical Jews from a bastion of resistance to Israel's planned pullout from the occupied territory, witnesses said.

They said police broke down doors to enter the barricaded hotel after the army declared a closed military zone in the Jewish Gush Katif settlement bloc to put an end to an influx of ultranationalists bent on scuttling any withdrawal. Israel radio reporters at the scene said commandos began carrying rightist squatters kicking and screaming from the beachfront Palm Beach Hotel, placing some of them in handcuffs.

Other policemen ran through corridors chasing rightists trying to elude capture, witnesses said.

The raid a day after soldiers ousted other religious rightists from a house they had seized as an outpost in the adjacent Palestinian district of al-Mawasi and arrested some of them for assaults on Palestinian inhabitants.

Soldiers fired in the air to quell stone-throwing clashes on Wednesday between the squatters, mainly teenage members of the banned anti-Arab group Kach, and local Palestinians.

One Palestinian teenager was seriously injured by rocks thrown at close range by Kach radicals.

Dozens of anti-pullout activists, many of them hardline settlers from the West Bank, moved into the derelict Palm Beach hotel earlier this year and vowed to bring tens of thousands more Jews into the area to block any withdrawal.

Many of the 8,500 resident Gush Katif settlers also oppose evacuation, but distanced themselves from the hotel radicals after some attacked Palestinians in al-Mawasi and grabbed an outpost in the heart of the district.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said before Thursday's hotel raid that he had ordered a security crackdown on the ultranationalists he described as "lawless gangs" engaged in "a reign of terror" threatening Israel's democracy.

Far-right Jews protesting at the pullout plan also blocked several highways around Israel during Wednesday's rush-hour. About 150 demonstrators were arrested and police used water cannon to disperse some of the blockades.


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