Jewish settlers in Gaza have collected hundreds of tents and are stockpiling food for thousands of supporters they expect to arrive in coming...

Share story

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.

An Associated Press reporter saw piles of hundreds of tents, sleeping bags and cans of food 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 social episode in Israel’s history. There are warnings of opposition, even armed resistance, against thousands of police and soldiers who are to take down veteran settlements in those territories for the first time.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, winding up a visit to the United States, told NBC News this week that the atmosphere around the pullout “looks like the eve of the civil war.”

Sharon told CNN yesterday that he favored leaving the buildings in the settlements intact after the pullout but that depended on coordination with the Palestinians, which had not started yet.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al Kidwa complained to CNN that Israel had given no information on the buildings. “There should be no reward for any of the assets, because they were established illegally,” he added.

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

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

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

Preparing for the friendly invasion, Gaza settler activist Datya Yitzhaki said she and her husband, Arye, have established 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 back yard in Gush Katif.” They said they expected hundreds of families and youths to stay in Gaza after the holiday.

Official settler leaders say their resistance will be nonviolent, although 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 bids to stop the pullout.

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

Israel’s Housing Ministry is preparing to offer temporary housing to the evacuated Gaza and West Bank settlers. Kobi Bleich, ministry spokesman, said the ministry plans to install 500 mobile homes and rent 600 apartments in the southern Negev Desert region for the settlers.