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Settlers stockpile supplies for resistance

Thousands said bound for Gaza to fight evacuation

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip -- Jewish settlers in Gaza have collected hundreds of tents and are stockpiling food for thousands of supporters they expect to arrive in coming days to help resist this summer's evacuation.

Piles of hundreds of tents, sleeping bags, and cans of food were seen in a Gaza warehouse yesterday, and settlers said more are on the way.

Removal of the 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank is shaping up as a traumatic episode in Israel's history. There are warnings of opposition, even armed resistance, against thousands of police and soldiers who are to take down longtime settlements in those territories for the first time.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, ending a visit to the United States, said in a television interview this week that the atmosphere around the pullout ''looks like the eve of the civil war."

Settlers expect huge crowds to gather in Gaza to demonstrate solidarity during the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover this month, and organizers are preparing for many to stay and oppose the evacuation, set for July.

The army said it has no intention of stopping the influx, although the presence of thousands of protesters would further complicate the operation. There are plans to close the area in the weeks before the pullout.

Eran Sternberg, a spokesman for the settlers, said organizers hope to bring 100,000 supporters to Gush Katif, the main Gaza settlement bloc, for Passover. He said police have issued permits for the gatherings, including concerts and marches.

Preparing for the friendly invasion, Datya Yitzhaki, a settler activist in Gaza, said she and her husband, Arye, have set up a ''war room." An inspection of the warehouse showed hundreds of tents, parachute material, and piles of canned food.

Arye Yitzhaki said the plan is to ''pitch a tent in every backyard in Gush Katif." He said they expected hundreds of families and young people to stay in Gaza after the holiday.

Datya Yitzhaki said more equipment was to arrive next week, including generators and refrigerators. To accommodate the reinforcements, Gaza residents are refurbishing abandoned buildings, shacks, and barracks.

Official settler leaders have expressed opposition to the evacuation in the strongest possible terms, even employing comparison with the Nazi Holocaust, during which 6 million Jews were killed. While the leaders say their resistance will be nonviolent, security officials have been warning that extremists among the settlers or their backers might open fire on troops and police, try to assassinate Sharon, or attack a Muslim holy site in an effort to stop the pullout.

Talking to US newspaper editors, Sharon offered to leave homes in the Gaza strip settlements intact if the Palestinians cooperate with Israel during the pullout. Israel had initially planned to destroy all the emptied settlements.

In the West Bank village of Tsurif near Hebron yesterday, dozens of Palestinians surrounded an overturned Israeli army jeep and threw stones at trapped soldiers who fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live rounds, witnesses and the military said.

Five Palestinians were wounded, including two who were shot in the leg and one who was in serious condition after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister, doctors said. Two soldiers were injured after being hit by rocks, the army said.

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