(Communicated by the IDF Spokesperson)

During the past 24 hours, elements opposed to the disengagement have radicalized their activities in the Gaza Strip, including repeated violations of law and order, as well as harm to Palestinian residents of the area and to the security forces.

Updated information exists regarding additional groups of Israelis that are moving towards the Gaza Strip, in an attempt to provide backup for the rioters and to act to further escalate the situation.

A further escalation of this course of action taken by radical elements may have grave effects on the region.

In light of this situation, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel signed an order regarding a temporary limitation of entry to, and presence in, the Gaza Strip. Entry into these areas will be allowed to Israelis who work in the area and provide essential services to Israelis who are listed as residents of the area, and to others whose entry is permitted by the authorities.

The IDF and the Israel Police plan to act in the near future in order to restore calm in the area. Upon completion of this activity, the order limiting entry to the area will be lifted.

It should be noted that this order is not the order of limitation to be issued by the political echelon as part of the preparations for the implementation of the Disengagement Plan.

The IDF and the Israel Police are in continuous contact with the leaders of the Gush Katif communities, and are updating them regarding developments. The IDF and the Israel Police are making every effort to minimize the harm to the residents’ daily lives.

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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded to yesterday’s events: "The battle now is not over the Disengagement Plan, but over the image and future of Israel, and under no circumstances can we allow a lawless gang to try to take control of life in Israel. The country’s citizens must understand this danger, and every measure must be taken to end this rampaging."

Commenting specifically on the stoning of a Palestinian youth by  Israeli extremists, Sharon said: "This bothers me exceptionally. This is an act of savagery, vulgarity and irresponsibility. These are not the acts of settlers, but of Kach members, who come mainly from outside [Gaza] … Such things must be stopped. We cannot let a small group of lawbreakers impose a reign of terror."

He added that he has ordered the police to find the perpetrators and bring charges, and said that he believes the law enforcement authorities understand the gravity of the current situation.