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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 July, 2005, 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK
Protest march on Gaza called off
Protesters gathered in the Israeli town of Kfar Maimon
Many of the protesters have started to peel away
An attempted protest march by thousands of Israelis to the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza has been called off.

Organisers told supporters gathered in a village in southern Israel that the time was not right to confront the police, who had banned the march.

But they said they had not abandoned the protest and vowed to reach the Gush Katif settlement in small groups.

The mass protest was aimed at disrupting next month's evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Some of the 6,000 demonstrators, many of them Orthodox Jews, left in buses late on Wednesday - but others remained in the makeshift campsite in Kfar Maimon for a third night.

Tactical retreat

They had wanted to proceed to the Gaza settlement, to protest against its closure as part of the planned Israeli withdrawal.

March organiser Bentzi Liberman, head of the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlers' council, said the aim was no longer to force their way through en masse.

"We feel at this time it is not wise to confront the police and the army.

"We will infiltrate through in small groups into Gush Katif, and in two weeks there will be 10,000 of us there."

On Wednesday, the protesters penned in for the past three days, demanded to be let through, but the police stood their ground.

It was the biggest protest so far over the plans of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw Jewish settlers from Gaza, which most Israelis back.

Protesters set up camp on Monday evening after marching about 3km from their starting point in Netivot, about 23km (14 miles) from the Gaza border.

The Israeli parliament again rejected proposals on Wednesday, which would have delayed the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza.

About 630 settlers will also be removed from four small West Bank settlements.

Israel has occupied Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967.

About 400,000 Israelis live in the territories, in settlements deemed as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

See tensions run high between protesters and the police

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