Israeli police and troops raided a hotel here Thursday to remove about 150 people protesting the country's planned evacuation of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip.
The government then sealed off the region to prevent further protesters from traveling to the area in support of settlers scheduled for eviction under the government's policy of "disengagement" from Gaza.
The government action was prompted in part by television footage Wednesday showing settlers, most of them in their teens and twenties, chanting "Death to Arabs."
Israeli soldiers intervened to shield one Palestinian man, who was being stoned after falling to the ground. He suffered serious injury and was taken to a nearby hospital. One Israeli newspaper called it a "lynching."
"It was an operation against a group of thugs who took over" the derelict hotel and nearby houses, said Maj. Gen. Dan Harel of the Israeli Defence Forces.
"We operated against lawlessness and the result was fast and professional," said Uri Bar-Lev, the police chief here. The purpose, he said, was to prevent casualties on both sides of the controversy.
The operation, which started at 2 p.m. Thursday, lasted about 40 minutes and involved about 700 police special forces backed up by troops.
Authorities reported four arrests but no casualties as they cleared out the area, leaving a force of soldiers and police behind to keep order in the coming days and weeks.
Wednesday, the Lebanese radical group Hezbollah fired at least 15 mortar shells across Israel's northern border, killing one Israeli soldier and wounding five others. The attack ended six months of relative calm along that frontier.
Israeli military officials have been predicting increased Hezbollah activity in the weeks leading up to the Gaza Strip evacuation. The officials say that by increasing its attacks, Hezbollah hopes to both draw Israeli military resources from the evacuation and create the impression that Israel is being forced to withdraw.
Israeli troops responded to the attack Wednesday with artillery fire, and Israeli fighter aircraft struck several targets in southern Lebanon. It was unclear whether any Hezbollah fighters were killed or injured.
The fighting came as extremist Israeli settlers opposed to the evacuation plan, known as disengagement, clashed in Gaza with Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, while other protesters mounted a civil disobedience campaign in the streets of Jerusalem and other major cities.
During morning and evening rush hours Wednesday, opponents of the withdrawal filled major roads to block traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem. Some scattered oil and nails on the road, puncturing about 20 tires.
In the evening, Israeli police officers used a water cannon to disperse another crowd on the highway leading from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Hours later, the people congregated again, pledging to keep up the demonstrations until Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called off the evacuation plan, scheduled to begin Aug. 15. Israeli police said they arrested 150 demonstrators.
Sharon, a longtime advocate of Israeli settlement in lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, has said evacuating 8,500 Israeli settlers in Gaza and about 700 more from the northern West Bank will enhance Israel's security and counter demographic trends weakening the country's Jewish majority. He has pushed the plan for more than a year, but public opinion polls show that support is dwindling as the date for withdrawal approaches.
Members of the religious wing of the settlers movement argue that it is morally wrong for Jews to abandon land they believe was deeded to them in the Bible. More secular opponents, many of whom once supported Sharon, say the evacuation sends a message of weakness to Israel's Arab enemies because it is being done without Israel having first received security guarantees or territorial concessions from the Palestinian leadership.
Israeli television news devoted much of the evening broadcast to the demonstrations. There were signs that the public was growing annoyed with the settlers' tactics. In the southern city of Beersheba, footage showed drivers who were caught in traffic as a result of the demonstrations. They were removing orange ribbons, the symbol of the anti-disengagement movement, from their cars.
Fred Barbash reported from Washington.