- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Israel Defense Forces and police will not be armed when they move to escort Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip and a portion of the West Bank, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said yesterday.

Some settlers have threatened to mobilize protesters and block the July evacuation of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank.

But Mr. Mofaz predicted that most settlers would leave on their own and only a few extremists would resort to violence against their own nation’s forces.

“I don’t believe the settlers will use guns against the soldiers and policemen. Some have sons and brothers and sisters in the military,” Mr. Mofaz told The Washington Times.

“They are not the enemy, and we don’t see them as enemy,” he said. “I am not speaking about one or two extremists who might use guns, but generally speaking, I don’t believe that will happen.

“The soldiers and policemen will be without guns when they relocate the settlers from the settlements,” Mr. Mofaz said.

Ultranationalist settler leader Effie Eitam said Jewish settlers should hand over their weapons before the Gaza withdrawal to prevent any chance of bloody confrontations with Israeli troops, the Associated Press reported yesterday from Jerusalem.

The minister, in Washington for a 24-hour visit for talks with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others, said negotiations on the transfer could take place in the weeks leading up to the relocation.

“It’s a historic move, although a painful and a very hard decision,” Mr. Mofaz said, but he added that it would make Israel more secure in the long run.

The dangers he saw lay more with the gap between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ political intentions and the reality on the ground, where Mr. Mofaz said Palestinian security groups had failed to rein in terror groups operating in their territory.

He said terror groups had smuggled in anti-aircraft Strela missiles, dozens of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, explosives and 500 rifles from Egypt into the territories.

“All these are in the hands of the terror groups. We know from intelligence that these armaments were smuggled,” the minister said.

Israel and Egypt are drafting a military-to-military protocol agreement to try to tighten the border between the two countries, including replacing border police with 750 border guards, said Mr. Mofaz, who returned from a trip to Egypt two weeks ago.

“Their mission should be to find the tunnels and stop the smugglers and fight against the terror,” he said. The protocol, which covers a 9-mile section, would serve as a pilot project.

Mr. Mofaz also warned that European countries were likely to fail in their attempt to wean Iran off its goal of becoming a nuclear power.

He said the issue should be brought before the U.N. Security Council to force Tehran to comply with more far-reaching inspections of its nuclear program or face international sanctions.

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