Yamit settlers determined to block evacuation

With this northern Sinai town still charred with the signs of incipient insurrection, right-wing forces are planning new acts of defiance aimed at blocking Yamit's evacuation under the Camp David agreement.

The movement to halt the retreat in Sinai has revealed plans to settle hundreds of supporters in Yamit and surrounding rural settlements during the Hanuka holiday, which begins Dec. 21. The movement has pledged to refill all northern Sinai settlements evacuated by the government prior to Israel's final withdrawal from Sinai next April.

The movement has already settled several score families in the Yamit area in the past few months. The government has not moved against them. According to informed sources, the government prefers to refrain from direct action against these ideological squatters until close to the April withdrawal date in order to avoid a running battle with nationalist infiltrators that would likely drag on for months.

The government, however, had been prepared to move relatively soon against the ''nonideologicals'' making up the Yamit action committee. This group had sealed the town off for five days to demonstrate their demands for higher compensation.

On Dec. 7 the committee opened the main gate to the fenced-in town, which it had welded shut last week, in order to receive Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The committee had agreed to lift its self-imposed siege after negotiations the day before with Gen. Dan Shomron. (General Shomron, who led the Israeli rescue raid at Entebbe five years ago, is commander of Israel's southern command, including the Yamit area, and it would have been his troops who would have had to restore order in Yamit if the residents had not given way.)

Militants on the committee had earlier set fire to several empty buildings in Yamit and warned that they would use weapons to meet any attempt by the Israeli Army to intervene. In addition to the rifles in every household in town, Molotov cocktails were also reportedly being prepared.

Incensed ministers called for forceful action against the Yamit militants at the Dec. 6 Cabinet meeting. A unanimous decision in the matter was reached at the meeting but Cabinet spokesmen declined to say what it was.

The movement to halt the retreat in Sinai had remained aloof from this struggle by the Yamit action committee for more compensation. Movement leaders, who have declined to negotiate for compensation, are privately scornful of the committee's adherents, who they believe are selling the national birthright for money. Religious members of the movement see the Yamit area as part of the Biblical land of Israel which, they say, stretched to El Arish farther east. Secular members say that Yamit is a strategically vital buffer between Egypt and Israel proper while the peace for which it is being sacrificed will prove to be illusory.

General Sharon told Yamit residents Dec. 7 that he would return next week to report to them after the Cabinet discussed the situation. General Sharon will reportedly recommend to the Cabinet that an impartial arbitrator be appointed to fix the terms of compensation. Yamit militants have warned that the town will be sealed off again unless there is a satisfactory settlement.

Of greater concern to the government, however, is the movement to halt the retreat that until now has been keeping a low profile.

The principle question now is whether the movement's followers will resort to weapons and whether the government will be able to cope with the mass hysteria that the evacuation order seems likely to trigger.

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