Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz remarked on Thursday that the army might keep Gaza Strip closed to Israelis ‘for as long as required.’

According to Halutz, the decision to close the strip was dictated by plans for mass protests by settler leaders to obstruct the pullout.

‘We foresaw that the opposition was mounting, in particular ‘from the outside inward,’ streaming people whose only purpose was to keep the IDF to carry out its mission, we came to the decision to close the Strip. We have a mission, and we will carry it out.’

‘The IDF can keep the Strip closed, with permits for entry and exit, for as long as is required.’

‘I hope that in the course of time, in the coming days, we will be able to ease somewhat the closure of the [Katif settlement] bloc.’  However a decision to ease the closure would depend on the nature of the protests to be mounted by opponents of the disengagement, he said.

Halutz’ comments were, apparently referring to comments made former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that the pullout should be delayed by two weeks and that it would be hard to maintain a long term closure.

Police cleared the roads to Gush Katif before dawn on Thursday, after settlers blocked the passage in and out of Gaza by parking dozens of cars there to protest the imposed closure. Clashes between the police and the settlers erupted.  One policeman was lightly injured and five were arrested.