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Israeli troops arrest 300 protesters entering Gaza

Jewish state tries to quell resistance to settler withdrawal plan



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KFAR MAIMON, Israel (CNN) -- Israeli authorities arrested 300 protesters overnight who were trying to enter Gaza in defiance of a government order banning nonresidents from entering the territory.

The arrests occurred after cancellation of a massive protest near the Israeli-Gaza border against Israel's plan to withdraw troops and about 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The Israeli pullout is set for mid-August.

"During the night, approximately 300 suspects were arrested in the Kissufim area as they tried to infiltrate into a closed military zone," said Israel Police spokesman Avi Zelba, referring to the border crossing from southern Israel into Gaza.

"Several suspects were arrested after they tried to cut through the border fence in an effort to enter the Gaza Strip."

He said the detainees were being interrogated in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

The protesters have sought to join Jewish settlers in the Gush Katif block of settlements and resist government attempts to withdraw them.

The Israeli government has said the disengagement plan will redraw the landscape of the Middle East, allowing for the possible resumption of the peace process with the Palestinian Authority.

The infiltrations came after settler supporters who had amassed as many as 10,000 demonstrators in the small Israeli farming community of Kfar Maimon gave up attempts to march across the border because 20,000 Israeli soldiers and police had surrounded the town.

In a separate statement Thursday, Zelba said: "The majority of demonstrators started leaving the vicinity of Kfar Maimon last night at around 10:30 of their own free will. A small number of settlers have remained on site."

Settler sources said they called off plans for direct confrontations with authorities, not wanting to risk clashes with thousands of Israeli police.

Organizers had aimed to lock arms and march toward Kissufim Crossing on Tuesday but dropped that plan after scuffles broke out between demonstrators and Israeli police.

The settler sources said the protesters instead will continue to infiltrate people into Gush Katif a few at a time. They claimed to have slipped 1,000 protesters into the settlement complex, but police said the number is much smaller.

The protesters began slipping away only hours after the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, rejected a bill by a 69-41 vote that would have delayed the disengagement plan by three months. There were two abstentions.

Protest organizers had sought to influence the Knesset's vote with the demonstrations.

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