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Six Hurt As Israel Targets Gaza Workshops

July 5, 2004

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli helicopters fired missiles at Palestinian workshops in the northern Gaza Strip, slightly wounding six people, in Israel’s latest effort to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.

Meanwhile, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service warned that Jewish extremists are becoming more militant, as some prominent rabbis encouraged settlers to resist evacuation from their homes.

Israel has launched a broad offensive in northern Gaza following a Palestinian rocket attack early last week that killed two Israelis. Despite the crackdown, militants have continued to fire rockets into Israel.

In two separate attacks, helicopters fired six missiles at workshops that the army says Palestinians use to make the crude rockets.

In the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian man was shot in the head and killed by Israeli soldiers late Sunday as he was walking down a main road in the southern town of Rafah, Palestinian security and hospital officials said. The officials said the man had no connection to militant groups. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

The violence comes as Israel prepares to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and from four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank. The evacuations will affect some 7,500 Jewish settlers in Gaza and about 500 of the 230,000 residents of West Bank settlements.

On Sunday, Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter warned of growing militancy among Jewish extremists opposed to the planned withdrawals.

Dichter told a Cabinet meeting that Jewish militants recently attacked an army officer in Jerusalem because he had helped dismantle a synagogue at an unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

Several settler leaders have said in recent weeks that they will resist evacuation. Many are religious Jews who believe the West Bank is theirs by divine promise.

Some 1,000 settlers and their supporters, including prominent rabbis and politicians, held a rally at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred shrine. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former chief rabbi of Israel, led the gathering in prayer.

Yitzhak Levy, a politician from the pro-settler National Religious Party, said he does not support violence, but did not rule out the possibility of fighting.

``The eviction will be tough,″ he told Israel’s Channel Two TV. ``But I can’t promise it won’t be violent, even though we are calling for there not to be violence.″

Late Sunday, Attorney General Meni Mazuz called on rabbis and other public leaders ``to exercise extreme caution and restraint in their comments.″

Mazuz said he would meet with Dichter, and top police and legal officials in the coming days to discuss ways to combat incitement.

Last month, settler leader Uri Elitzur, who was a top aide of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said violent resistance to settlement evacuations is legitimate. Last week, an eminent rabbi in Jerusalem said that anyone who removes Jewish settlements would hypothetically be subject to the death penalty under biblical Jewish law.

Israeli security officials confirmed the Shin Bet has grown concerned.

They said their main concern is the threat of assassination. In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by an ultranationalist Jew opposed to his peace efforts. The security officials said they are also preparing for attacks on Arabs and potential violence against security forces.

A poll published Sunday indicated that Israeli support for the U.S.-backed withdrawal plan has grown slightly, while Palestinian support plummeted.

Palestinian backing for the pullout dropped to 34 percent at the end of June, from 73 percent in March, while Israeli support was up to 66 percent from 64 percent.

The survey was conducted just before the Israeli offensive in the northern Gaza Strip.

In other developments, Israeli troops entered the West Bank village of Tel near Nablus early Monday and demolished the house of Taher Ramadan, the army and Palestinians said. Troops killed Ramadan, a militant from the Islamic Jihad group, when he tried to attack a Jewish settlement on Sunday.

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