Settlers in the Sinai town of Yamit rejected tonight an Israeli Cabinet appeal to resume negotiations on property compensation and continued fortifications against a forced evacuation of land to be turned over to Egypt on April 25.
Backed by 200 families brought to the northern Sinai by the ultranationalist settlement movement Gush Emunim, the Yamit settlers began using bulldozers to dig trenches around the town and built sandbag and barbedwire bunkers.
"We hope the issue will be solved by talking," said Avi Yagair, a spokesman for the Yamit Settlers' Committee. "But if there will be such a thing as soldiers getting orders to come and take it by force, there will be resistance."
The Yamit residents have used the threat of resistance before to dramatize their demands for up to $365,000 per family for homes and small businesses that will be lost in Israel's scheduled return to Egypt of the last third of the occupied Sinai.
Last month, the settlers barricaded themselves into the town and reopened Yamit only when Defense Minister Ariel Sharon promised renewed negotiations.
Tonight, the settlers' committee voted to reject negotiations until the government presents a new offer of a compensation advance payment while bargaining continues.
Communications Minister Mordechai Zippori reportedly said that Sharon had failed to accept his responsibility to maintain order in a military zone.
Zippori also was quoted by Cabinet sources as telling the other ministers that the government had become a "laughing stock" because of tacit encouragement given the settlers by Israel's chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, who is a government official.
Transport Minister Haim Corfu proposed that a deadline be set for evacuation, after which the settlers could recieve no more compensation than the government's last offer.
Sharon has argued that negotiations should continue and that there is no need to force evacuation until close to April 25.