After a mass protest in the border town of Sderot on Tuesday night, right-wing opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan were due to hold another round of protests in nearby Ofakim.
Thousands of those who took part in the Sderot protest spent the night camped in Ofakim, ahead of the next round of demonstrations intended to force Sharon into a last-minute rethink of his plan to uproot settlers from occupied Palestinian land since the start of the occupation in 1967.
The atmosphere among the protesters was festival-like on Wednesday, with children playing on bouncy castles and guitar sessions around tents.
Behind the scenes, plans were afoot to try to enter the nearby Gush Katif settlement bloc, which includes 15 of the 21 illegal Gaza settlements and has been a closed military zone to all non-residents for several weeks.
More than 25,000 settlers took
Media reports said the main Yesha settlers lobby had instructed 2000 activists to sneak into Gush Katif after dark on Wednesday evening.
One of the leaders of Yesha, Tzviki Barhai, confirmed that orders had been given to activists, without confirming numbers.
“We have given instructions to our people to try and find alternative paths into Gush Katif,” Barhai told public radio.
Reports said groups of youths would set off in small parties after dark from the town of Ofakim where they spent the night after the rally in Sderot.
Police said a number of settlers had been arrested after the rally on Tuesday night as they tried to break into Gaza, including Daniella Weiss, the leader of the Kedumim regional council in the occupied West Bank.
Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres ridiculed the settlers’ aim of reaching Gaza and criticised them for trying to block the will of the democratically elected government.
Police spokesman Berti Ohayon said a massive security operation would be staged to foil the settlers’ plans.
“Sixteen thousand police and soldiers have been deployed around Ofakim. They will not allow anybody to illegally enter the Gaza Strip,” Ohayon said.
More than 25,000 settlers and their supporters attended the rally in Sderot.