Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Sharon draws ire from hardliners over pullout plan


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is proposing evacuating all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip at the beginning of next year, or eight months earlier than planned, to avoid drawn-out clashes with settlers, his aides said.

Sharon was to present the revised timetable to his rebellious Likud Party yesterday. Many Likud legislators oppose a withdrawal, and a stormy debate was expected.

In Gaza early yesterday, a Palestinian man wearing an explosives belt resembling underpants and hidden under his clothing was stopped at the Erez crossing into Israel. The man had waited in line with thousands of workers making their way into Israel every morning.

Soldiers became suspicious when they spotted on him what looked like an activation device, the army said. Soldiers isolated him from the workers and ordered him to remove the explosives, which he did, the army said.

Also, Palestinians said a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed during an Israeli operation in the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border. Israeli military sources said soldiers were tearing down an abandoned structure and fired on a suspicious Palestinian approaching them.

Details of the timetable were obtained by reporters. It starts in mid-September with the Cabinet approving legislation to give compensation to settlers leaving their homes.

By the beginning of next year, the military and police will be ready to move in and empty the settlements. The evacuation is to be completed in one sweep shortly afterward. Sharon had initially assured critics of the plan that the withdrawal would take place in several stages, with each step approved separately by the Cabinet.

His change of tactics angered opponents of the withdrawal. Education Minister Limor Livnat from Likud told Sharon during a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers that the new plan would also require Cabinet approval, the Haaretz daily said.

Sharon responded angrily.

"This is false patriotism," Sharon told Livnat, according to Haaretz. "We can evacuate in four stages -- on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."

Sharon has already lost two Likud battles over his pullout plan -- a nonbinding referendum by party members and a convention vote. At least half of the 40 Likud members of parliament oppose the pullout.

According to Sharon's initial "unilateral disengagement" plan as approved in June, the Gaza settlements and four small enclaves in the West Bank were to be removed by the end of September next year.

At the Likud faction meeting, Sharon plans to present "the detailed, specific timetables and dates of the stages in the decision-making process," said Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin.

Since Sharon first raised the plan in December, settlers have been organizing to resist. Though most of the 8,000 Gaza settlers are expected to accept compensation or alternative housing and leave quietly, a small hard core of settlers would likely dig in and try to fend off security forces.

Removing all 21 settlements at once would be practical, said political analyst Hanan Crystal.

"If they do it in stages, the same thousand settlers will run from one place to the next" to resist, he told reporters. "If they do it all at once, where can they run?"

The one-off evacuation also helps Sharon solve political problems. Faced with a Cabinet rebellion, Sharon rammed the plan through in June, but had to agree to additional votes for each stage of the evacuation.

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