Sharon Says the Army Will Begin Removing Militants from North Sinai

Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the Knesset today that the army would start tomorrow to remove militants from northern Sinai. He spoke during a debate on a Tehiya motion of no confidence in the government. The motion was defeated by a vote of 58-3. There were 43 abstentions, by the Labor Alignment and the Communist Party.

The motion was prompted by the setting up of roadblocks last Friday to prevent infiltration of Sinai by supporters of the movement to halt Israel’s withdrawal, scheduled to be completed by April 25. Hundreds, possibly thousands of squatters, mostly Orthodox Jews from West Bank settlements, have occupied abandoned houses in Yamit and other settlements in recent weeks with the intention to force the government to abandon its evacuation plans.

Sharon disclosed that the army has already begun removing militant yeshiva students who recently moved into Ophira in southern Sinai. The debate today was highly emotional, with religious MKs charging that the army had desecrated the Sabbath by setting up roadblocks after sundown Friday. But the only votes cast for the no confidence measure were by the two members of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya faction and Rabbi Haim Druckman, of the National Religious Party, who announced today that he was resigning from the Knesset. (See separate story.)

MOVE TO PREVENT INFILTRATION

Meanwhile, two brigades of Israeli soldiers have been diverted from their normal duties and training exercises to man roadblocks on the approach es to Sinai. Their purpose is to prevent infiltration into the area around Yamit by militants opposed to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai.

But the militants, mainly Orthodox Jews from West Bank settlements, say that thousands of their numbers have easily by-passed the roadblocks and entered the region by crawling through fields, over sand dunes and cutting through chain-link fences. Although the roadblocks created an uproar among the Yamit settlers when they were put in place last Friday, the area has been quiet since then. Soldiers are said to be making only cursory checks of civilian traffic moving south.

Some 2000 “guests” from other regions managed to attend the wedding yesterday of a Yamit militant, Misha Mishkin. although the army had stated they would be barred from the area. How many of them left after the wedding is not known, but the feeling is that most if not all, stayed.

Also yesterday, 23 persons, all from the religious township of Kiryat Arba on the West Bank, were arrested after some 200 militants battled police attempting to set up roadblocks near Yamit. They were to have face a military court today. But the trial was “postponed.” At least two of the detainees managed to escape and turned up at the Mishkin wedding.

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