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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August, 2005, 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK
Settlers gather for Gaza protest
Settler protests at Sderot
Settlers' tactics now focus on disrupting the pullout
Thousands of Jewish settlers have gathered in the southern Israeli town of Sderot to protest against the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Settler leaders say they will defy security forces and march to Gush Katif in Gaza on Wednesday.

Up to 15,000 police and soldiers have been deployed to try to prevent protesters from making it through.

The disengagement from Gaza ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due to begin in two weeks' time.

Settler leaders claimed 40,000 people had come to Sderot for the protest though police estimated the figure between 10,000 and 15,000.

The right-wing protesters, many dressed in the orange colour adopted by the anti-withdrawal movement, planned to spend the night in the nearby town of Ofakim, out of range of Palestinian rockets.

The settlers agreed to leave Sderot by late evening.

"We will continue on as planned to Ofakim, where, at night, we will get organised for the continuation, on to Gush Katif," settler spokesman Pinchas Wallerstein told Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

Disrupting withdrawal

Most of the protesters now seem to agree that they will not be able to prevent the Gaza pullout but they appear to want to make it as difficult and as traumatic a process as possible, says the BBC's Matthew Price in Sderot.

They hope that will make it less likely that future Israeli governments will try to withdraw from other occupied Palestinian land, notably the West Bank.

Click below to see a detailed map of the Israeli disengagement plan

Chief among the protesters' tactics is to tie down security forces to police large-scale protests.

They say they want to reach Gush Katif on Wednesday, to bolster the resistance inside Gaza to the evacuation.

A similar protest two weeks ago was prevented from reaching the settlements in Gaza.

There are fears that, as the evacuation date draws closer, a small group of hardline protesters will get more determined and try to break through on their own.

The Israeli government plans the withdrawal of more than 8,000 settlers and the soldiers that protect them from Gaza. Israel is also planning to withdraw from four small settlements in the West Bank.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.

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