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PROTEST OF GAZA PULLOUT MARRED BY MORTAR ATTACK

Thousands of Israelis poured into the Gaza Strip's main Jewish settlement bloc today to protest this summer's planned withdrawal from the area that Israel has occupied for 38 years, but the rally was marred by low turnout and a mortar attack.

A mortar shell fired by Palestinian militants struck near a playground during the rally, slightly injuring an Israeli soldier who was hit by shrapnel.

Settler leaders initially said they expected 100,000 people for the daylong event. However, only about 20,000 people had arrived by afternoon, police said.

Despite the attack and low turnout, organizers vowed to continue the protest meant as a show of support for the settlers who will be forced out in July under the pullout announced last year by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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