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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 13:34 GMT
Settlers react with anger and defiance
Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip
Security has been tightened after Wednesday's attacks
Tarik Kafala

For the residents of the Gush Katif settlement bloc that dominates the southern coast of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian attacks on settlers in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday are further proof that trying to make peace with the Palestinians is pointless.

Gush Katif is the name given to a massive, consolidated area of illegal settlements that is home to 7,500 Jewish settlers.

It is a regular target of attack.

On Wednesday, two Palestinian suicide bombers attacked cars approaching the Neveh Dekalim settlement in Gush Katif. They blew themselves up and slightly injured the passengers.

Map of Gaza
For Gaza's Palestinians Gush Katif is the most ostentatious expression of the Israeli occupation.

The settlers say that their security is declining dramatically by the day.

"There is complete chaos here. The latest attack here was the first time that a suicide bomber got inside a settlement in Gaza," Rifka Goldschmidt, a settler who has lived in Gaza for 20 years, said.

"Gush Katif is not safe anymore. Before we had the mortar bombings, which either fell in your back yard or they didn't. But having people penetrate into Gush Katif and blast themselves against cars, this is new."

Restricted movements

After Wednesday's Palestinian attacks on settlers in the West Bank, in which 10 died, and in Gaza, security here has been massively heightened.

Gaza has been cut into three sections, completely halting Palestinian movement up and down the strip.

Paramedics at the scene of a deadly attack on a bus in the West Bank
The attacks sent shockwaves through the community

The roads into Gaza from Israel and those linking the settlements carry a trickle of Israeli only traffic.

Residents here are adamant that they have a right to be in Gaza or in the West Bank and make a distinction between Palestinian attacks inside Israel and attacks on Israeli settlers or soldiers in the occupied territories.

The people I spoke to said that Israel should respond to the events of the last days and weeks with a massive military retaliation against Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Israeli settler Rifka Goldschmidt in Gush Katif
Rifka Goldschmidt: "Gush Katif is not safe anymore"

"They wanted to kill us, they wanted to wound us, and this is the answer of Mr Arafat to the situation in the Gaza Strip. We ask for the army of Israel to clear the roads so that our people can move safely and quietly," Gush Katif's Mayor Avner Shimoni said.

Israel's retaliatory air strikes are insufficient, the mayor said.

"The army have to go into the Palestinian areas on foot, not just bombing from the air. They can go to areas near by, like Khan Younis, and clear it of terrorists. You have to know that we are now at war."

Some are leaving

The regular Palestinian attacks are however taking their toll in a small way.

Although the settlers in Gaza are some of the most committed in the occupied territories, small numbers are leaving.

"People in Neveh Dekalim are being bombarded every night, less so elsewhere. On the whole, people live in Gush Katif in fear. This has an accumulating impact on people," Rifka Goldschmidt said.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel cuts ties with Arafat
12 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israeli strikes kill four in Gaza
19 Jul 01 | Middle East
Life as a Jewish settler
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