Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the Israeli army will remain in the Gaza Strip until the end of this year, even though all Israeli settlers are scheduled to be evacuated in August.

Mofaz stated that Ashkelon (Asqalan), a city in southern Israel, is within the range of Palestinian fire and therefore requires ‘exceptional protection.’

During a tour of the al-Mawassi area of the Gaza Strip, Mofaz said, according to Israel Radio, that the army will not be able to place “defense systems” in the south before Israel starts implementing disengagement.

“The evacuation process is a very tough mission, but I believe that disengagement will lead Israelis to a better situation, it will not divide the Israeli society, it is an important step for Israel”, Mofaz added.

Giora Eland, head of the Israeli Security Council, announced on Tuesday, that Israel will not even consider the demand of the Palestinian Authority that the Israeli Army pull back to 1949 Armistice lines (two kilometers north of the current border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel).