Attack on Netzarim Post Renews Debate over Fate of Gaza Settlement

Renewing a debate that has been going on for months, government and opposition leaders traded barbs this week about the fate of the isolated Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip.

Appearing before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres repeated the position he has taken several times before, calling the settlement of some 30 families a thorn which must be removed from Israel’s side.

But Peres added that Netzarim should not be dismantled now, in order not to give the impression that the settlement was being disbanded in the face of opposition by Palestinian extremists.

On Saturday night, some 300 Hamas supporters overtook an army checkpoint near Netzarim and raised a Palestinian flag after destroying the post.

Following standing orders, the soldiers fled the checkpoint under a hail of stones thrown by the demonstrators.

The soldiers then took up positions at a prearranged point to defend the 30 families in Netzarim, where a larger army presence is maintained.

They returned to the checkpoint after Palestinian police had dispersed the protesters.

Sgt. Maj. Gil Dadon, 26, of Tel Aviv, was later killed at the site, when a speeding car with Gaza license plates opened fire on the army post.

It was the same post where, on Nov. 11, a terrorist rode up on a bicycle and exploded a bomb that claimed the lives of three Israeli reservists and injured several others, including Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

Addressing the key Knesset committee, Peres said some $8 million had been spent on guarding the settlement, which is located south of Gaza City.

OTHER SETTLERS SHOW SOLIDARITY

He said maintaining the settlement lacked any justification from an economic or security standpoint.

Peres was originally scheduled to brief the committee on Israel’s relations with neighboring Arab states. But Likud Knesset member Ariel Sharon had asked that Netzarim, and the army checkpoint near it, be put on the agenda.

Sharon, who had visited the checkpoint earlier in the day, attacked the government for stationing soldiers there without adequate equipment or the means to protect themselves effectively.

Peres in turn defended the standing orders that led Israeli soldiers to abandon the post briefly Saturday night.

The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, a leading settlers group, meanwhile declared it was launching a show of solidarity for Netzarim.

The head of the council, Uri Ariel, said Monday the group would urge members of other settlements to take turns living at Netzarim to lend their moral support.

“People will not be living there permanently, but will stay for a few days to show solidarity,” he told Israel Radio.

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