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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 April, 2005, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Anger over Gaza relocation plan
A proposal to redevelop a nature reserve in southern Israel to house Jewish settlers from Gaza has been condemned by environmental groups.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly discussed the idea of resettling the families in Nitzanim at a meeting with settlers on Tuesday.

Nitzanim is home to endangered species of tortoise and about 100 gazelles.

Israeli police meanwhile are to ban Jews from a holy site in Jerusalem amid fears of an attack by protesters.

A religious group called Revava says it will hold a mass rally on the contested plateau known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif in protest against the planned withdrawal from Gaza.

Natural beauty

The plan to relocate settlers in Nitzanim will reportedly require homes for several hundred families to be built on the coastal plain between the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Gazelle
Nitzanim is home to a number of protected species
The 780-hectare (1,927 acres) area is one of great natural beauty and is home to protected species of animals, public beaches, a nature reserve, and a forest.

The prospect of developing the area for the families has been widely criticised.

"We shouldn't be enticed, for the sake of dialogue with the settlers, to sacrifice one of the most unique natural areas in Israel, and perhaps the world," said Israeli Environment Minister Shalom Simhon.

Members of the Israeli environmental group Green Trend told Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper they would "bodily block the tractors and trucks" to stop any construction work on the reserve.

Mr Simhon suggested relocating the settlers to the nearby town of Nitzan, but local residents have already voiced their objections.

Holy site threat

As the controversial plans to pull the settlers out of Gaza gathered pace, Revava called for 10,000 Jews to ascend the holy escarpment in Jerusalem on Sunday.

The fate of the site, where two large mosques stand above the ruins of two Biblical Jewish temples, is one of the most sensitive issues between Israel and the Muslim world.

Israel's security services fear Jewish extremists might attempt to provoke a Muslim backlash in the hope of scuppering the Gaza withdrawal.

"There are fears of an attack on the Temple Mount," Amos Gilad, an Israeli Defence Ministry official told Israel radio.

"We have to use all means available, including unprecedented ones, to prevent any attack," he said.


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