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      Forty Thousand Stream Into Sderot For Anti-Expulsion Rally

      Tens of thousands of anti-expulsion protestors have reached the Negev town of Sderot despite police attempts to limit the number to 5,000. Protesters intend to march to Gush Katif Wednesday evening.
      By Ezra HaLevi
      First Publish: 8/3/2005, 7:51 AM / Last Update: 8/2/2005, 8:22 PM

      Major traffic delays are reported in Kiryat Malachi, Ashdod and many other southern district municipalities as thousands of anti-Disengagement protestors continue making their way to the rally. Police report that there are five-mile long traffic jams in all directions surrounding the town of Sderot. Thousands of people were also seen walking toward the western Negev town on the shoulders of the roads.

      (Click "play" button to view footage from the rally)



      Israel National Radio's Eli Stutz reports that 40,000 people have arrived in Sderot. "There is a gigantic grassy field in front of a large stage where pop/folk music legend Ariel Zilber is performing," Stutz reported at 8:40 p.m. "There is a big sign in the front of the city saying, 'Our Town is Your Town.' All these towns bordering Gaza are represented here - they know full well that the rockets that are now hitting them will multiply following a pullout."

      The father of Ella Abukasis, the teenage girl who was killed by a Kassam rocket that hit her home in Sderot, addressed the crowd, angrily pointing a finger at the government.

      "Why are there 30,000 soldiers and police here today to make sure good Jews don't walk to Gush Katif?" Abukasis boomed. "Where were they when my daughter was killed? Where are they when murderers fire rockets at us daily?"

      MK Ayoub Kara (Likud), a Druze member of the Knesset, arrived in Sderot to participate in the rally, as well. He told Arutz-7: "I came here to identify with the protesters and to help preserve Israeli democracy, which is in grave danger."

      "The checkpoints and demands that citizens show their identity cards in order to pass remind me of darker days this nation has faced," Kara said. "This Prime Minister uses the police and military so aggressively in order to enforce his personal doctrine. I believe, though, that justice and faith will win by way of this public gathered here."

      Following the Sderot event, participants plan to continue on toward Ofakim where they will spend the night. Many demonstrators told Arutz-7 that on their way into town they received invitations from residents, some yelled from balconies, to spend the night at their homes. An estimated 500 families in Sderot have opened their homes in this way. Other families prepared large pots of food earlier in the day, to have it ready to offer to the protestors.

      The Yesha Council has announced that from Ofakim, protesters will march to Gush Katif on Wednesday.

      Over 6,000 IDF soldiers were sent to Ofakim Tuesday to strengthen the force already present in a bid to ensure that anti-Disengagement activists do not succeed in entering Gush Katif.

      Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz had declared Monday that the rally would not be permitted to take place. On Tuesday, following 24 hours of negotiations between the police and the Yesha Council, an agreement was reached enabling the rally to take place. Shortly after, however, Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra declared that only 5,000 protesters would be allowed to attend the Sderot rally.

      Yesha Council head Bentzy Lieberman told Arutz-7 that he is certain the difficulties faced by organizers were the direct doing of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "The entire time, both police and IDF officials made it clear to us that from their perspective, democracy dictated that we be authorized to carry out the rally."

      Lieberman said the only limitation agreed to by the Yesha Council was that the Sderot rally would conclude at 9:30 PM, and that from there, protesters would be transported by car and bus to Ofakim.

      "From Ofakim, we will continue to join our heroic brethren in Gush Katif," Lieberman said.

      Click here for Israel National Radio's live coverage