Protesters scuffle with police at Gaza entrace (Photo: WND)

Kissufim Crossing, GAZA – In what is being widely viewed as the official start to his evacuation plan, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this morning ordered the Gaza Strip and towns in the northern West Bank completely closed, declaring the areas military zones in an effort to thwart plans by protesters to flock here.

Meanwhile, anti-withdrawal activists declared today “zero hour” and pledged mayhem throughout the country.

The Gaza closure order, agreed to at a meeting last night of Israel’s top military brass, permanently bans all non-residents from entering the Jewish communities slated for evacuation Aug. 17.

An IDF spokeswoman said commanders at Gaza checkpoints would have the authority to issue temporary entry to select individuals, such as resident family members, credentialed journalists, businesses providing services to the area, and humanitarian workers.

In response to the closure, anti-withdrawal groups have called for a massive road-blocking campaign throughout the country, beginning 5 p.m. local time, and warned they might initiate protests at Gaza checkpoints.

Car denied entry to Gaza (Photo: WND)

Activist leaders in Jewish Gaza have called for residents to immediately make their way to the main Gaza entrance to protest the closure.

Teenagers from Gush Katif, the large slate of Gaza’s Jewish communities, already started an impromptu protest this afternoon here at the Kissufim Crossing, the main checkpoint into the area.

Dozens of kids arrived at the checkpoint, heavily manned by Israeli soldiers and shouted at officers to refuse orders. Some protesters attempted to block military vehicles and heavy equipment from entering.

“If they won’t let anyone else in, why should we let the army in?” one protester told WND.

Heavy army equipment moved into Gaza (Photo: WND)

About 50 protest vehicles from outside Gaza tried to make it past the entrance, but all were promptly halted. Three tour buses that departed Jerusalem unaware of today’s closures were turned back as well. Some disgruntled protesters got out of their vehicles and tried to walk around the entrance checkpoint, a few succeeding.

The Gaza checkpoint protest is not being supported by all community leaders.

“We’re not all in agreement about this,” Anita Tucker, a Katif spokeswoman, told WND. “We should not be the ones blocking off the area. Sharon is the bad guy here. What if emergency vehicles can’t get in? It makes us look bad.”

At one Jewish community here, the second highest ranking official of Israel’s Defense Ministry was trapped inside Gaza this morning when about 50 youth from the area blocked the exit gate to the settlement.

Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron finally escaped from the Kfar Darom neighborhood on foot after pleads for his exit by security personnel failed to persuade the youth to move. Yarom abandoned four ministry vehicles and had to be picked up on the outskirts of the settlement by an armored military SUV, which rushed him from the area.

More than 200 troops are deployed at the Gaza entrance and about 3,000 soldiers and police officers reportedly have set up shop at key junctions throughout the country, bracing for the expected protest onslaught.

The Yesha settlers council, the main anti-withdrawal activist group, said protesters today should focus on blocking roads and wait until next week to head to Gaza. The council has called for a massive march Monday it says will bring tens of thousands to the area to halt the evacuation plan.

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