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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 July, 2004, 20:05 GMT 21:05 UK
Chain protest at Gaza plan
Protesters holding hands in the chain from Gaza to Jerusalem
It was the biggest demonstration so far against the withdrawal plan
Tens of thousands of Israelis have formed a human chain in protest at the government's plans to pull out of Gaza.

Demonstrators held hands along the 90km (57-mile) route in the biggest show of strength yet against a withdrawal.

In continuing violence, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank.

In Gaza itself, six Israeli children were hurt when a missile hit a Jewish settlement, and two Palestinians were hurt in a missile strike on Gaza City.

There were also clashes after Israeli troops moved into the centre of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun in an operation the army said was aimed at stopping militants firing missiles across the boundary into Israel.

Expulsion anger

The human chain stretched almost unbroken from the Jewish settlement of Nissanit in the Gaza Strip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem - Judaism's holiest site.

We came here to protest the programme of expelling Jews from their land
Avraham Yitzhaki
It began in Gaza with Shamir Yitzhak, who was evacuated when Egypt captured the Gaza Strip in 1948, and ended with his six-year-old granddaughter Yael Better, who laid her hands on the giant stones of the wall in Jerusalem.

Protesters danced and sang patriotic songs before joining hands and singing the Israeli national anthem in unison.

Up to 15 MPs from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party said they planned to join the protest.

Police said about 130,000 people took part.

"We came here to protest the programme of expelling Jews from their land," said Avraham Yitzhaki, 54, from the Gaza settlement of Ganei Tal.

Under Mr Sharon's plan, all Gaza's 21 settlements and four of the settlements in the West Bank will be evacuated by September next year as a unilateral step designed to secure Israel against Palestinian militants.

Opinion polls show a majority of Israelis in favour of a pullout from Gaza, where 7,000 settlers live among more than 1.3 million Palestinians.

Violence flares

In the heaviest bloodshed of the day, six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarm.

The Israeli military said the six were all armed militants from al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, while Palestinian hospital sources said an 18-year-old civilian was among those killed.

In Gaza meanwhile six children were hurt when a missile, possibly an anti-tank shell, hit a building in the settlement of Neve Dekalim.

The Israeli military said one of the children was seriously injured.

Earlier, Israeli helicopters fired two missiles at a house in Gaza City's eastern Zeitoun district, an area known as a militant stronghold that has often been targeted by Israel.

Two Palestinians were wounded.

Missiles were fired at the same building later in the day, reducing it to rubble. Palestinian sources said the house belonged to a man linked to militant group Hamas.

Overnight, Israeli troops moved into the centre of Beit Hanoun as part of an operation to stop rocket attacks against Israel.

The Israeli offensive began on 29 June after two Israelis were killed by a rocket launched from the town.


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