Israelis turn against militant settlers as protests backfire

The first survey taken in the wake of this week's violence by settlers in Gaza and disruption on the roads inside Israel registered 62 per cent supporting the evacuation and only 31 per cent opposing it. The poll, published yesterday in the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot, found 76 per cent convinced that the 22 Gaza and four northern West Bank settlements will be evacuated, regardless of right-wing opposition.

In a similar poll three weeks ago, support for the pullout had dipped to 53 per cent and opposition had climbed to 38. An Israel Radio poll at the beginning of June put support in the low 40s.

Militant settlers seem to have alienated middle opinion, which felt uncomfortable that 1,500 families were going to be evicted from their homes. The streets are still awash with the orange caps, shirts and antenna ribbons of the anti-disengagement camp, but they are being countered increasingly by the blue of Mr Sharon's supporters. Pro-settler banners reading "A Jew Does Not Expel a Jew" along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road are now challenged by the Peace Now movement's "Leaving Gaza is a Choice of Life".

The disruption of rush-hour traffic, which brought the confrontation nearer home, seems to have been a major factor. Four in every five of those polled rejected road-blocking as a legitimate form of protest. Thursday's forced removal of young radicals who had turned a Gaza hotel into a "fortress" enjoyed broad support.