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Israel re-opens Gaza settlements


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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A day after declaring all settlements in Gaza a controlled military zone, the Israeli army Friday lifted the order, saying the threat to Israel's disengagement plan had been eliminated, a statement from Israel Defense Forces said.

Israeli police and soldiers Thursday night raided a hotel to oust right-wing protesters who oppose the government's plan to withdraw from Gaza in 45 days.

Video showed police and Israeli soldiers hauling screaming protesters from the Maoz Yam hotel in Neveh Dekalim.

The protesters had surrounded the hotel with barbed wire and had stockpiled food, announcing they would resist attempts to remove them by peaceful means.

Israeli police later announced that all the protesters had been removed.

Sharon announced plans last year to close 21 settlements and move about 8,000 Israelis from Gaza, which is also home to about 1.3 million Palestinians. (Full story)

Israel plans to remove Jewish settlers, and the Israeli troops who guard them, from Gaza and parts of the West Bank by mid-August. Israel has controlled the 138-square-mile territory since capturing it from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The withdrawal plan has generated anger among Israeli settlers and their supporters, who have staged protests and scuffled with police and Palestinians in recent days.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces closed all Gaza settlements to Israeli civilians except "Israelis working in the area, providing essential services, ... Israelis who are listed as residents of the area and ... others whose entry is permitted by the authorities."

"The IDF and the Israeli police forces plan to act in the near future in order to restore calm in the area," the IDF said in news release. "Upon completion of this activity, the order limiting entry to the area will be removed."

The army warned that "further escalation of this course of action taken by radical elements may have grave effects on the region."

A Palestinian was seriously wounded Wednesday and two Israelis suffered minor injuries amid a stone-throwing melee between Palestinians and Israeli settlers upset over arrests at an illegal settlement outpost.

Israeli security forces clashed with settlers while making the arrests, IDF said. The army said police arrested nine people. (Full story)

A number of youths took over an abandoned Palestinian building earlier this week after the army destroyed a number of buildings in Gush Katif, a block of Israeli settlements along the southern Gaza coast.

After warnings of a possible attempt by Palestinian militants to attack Israelis in the building, the army declared the area a closed military zone and police and troops began evacuating the structure, the military said.

Sharon's plan

Earlier this month, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the withdrawal was constitutional and rejected settlers' legal challenges. (Full story)

The United States strongly supports Sharon's plan to disengage from Gaza, but Palestinian leaders have complained it was a plan reached not through negotiations, but unilaterally.

Sharon called it a necessary step that could advance peace efforts. Israeli and Palestinian officials have met to discuss plans for the pullout from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

A chief concern is whether the Palestinian security apparatus is strong and well-organized enough to ensure security in the region once Israeli troops are gone.

Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met last week for the first time since February. (Full story)

President Bush has pledged $50 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority to help pay for new housing and infrastructure projects. (Full story)

U.N. appeals to Lebanon, Israel

A United Nations envoy for southern Lebanon called Thursday for the Lebanese government to extend control over all its territory as firing continued between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israel near the border.

Geir Pedersen, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's personal representative for southern Lebanon, also urged Israel to stop violating Lebanese airspace.

Pedersen said the Lebanese government should "end all attacks emanating from its territory." He also told a briefing at the United Nations that a violation by one side cannot justify a violation by the other.

In Beirut, Hezbollah told CNN that Israeli aircraft attacked Hezbollah positions Thursday in southern Lebanon.

Israeli military sources in Jerusalem said IDF troops fired on suspected Hezbollah positions in the Shebaa Farms area along the border.

In a separate statement, the IDF said the body of a Hezbollah fighter had been found in the Shebaa Farms area.

On Wednesday, the IDF said its troops hit a Hezbollah fighter in a clash inside Israeli territory.

While Hezbollah denied any exchange of gunfire had taken place in the Shebaa Farms region Wednesday, Israeli warplanes attacked two Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon after the militant group struck Israeli outposts near the Shebaa Farms, the IDF said.

One Israeli solder was killed and five others wounded, the IDF said. Israeli military sources said the incident began when members of a Hezbollah cell crossed the Lebanese border into Shebaa Farms.

Israeli troops fired on the cell, the IDF said, and other Hezbollah members returned fire with mortars, rockets and automatic weapons.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon said its troops observed Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms under mortar fire from Hezbollah guerrillas. Israel then responded with artillery and tank fire as well as aerial bombs, it said.

According to the United Nations, Israeli aircraft on Thursday violated Lebanese airspace, dropping leaflets on the cities of Tyre, Sidon and Beirut that called on the Lebanese government to take charge of southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah has vowed to liberate the Shebaa Farms area and has sporadically attacked Israeli posts there since Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and has maintained control of it since. The United Nations has determined that it belongs to Syria.

CNN's Brent Sadler and Yoav Appel contributed to this report.

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