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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
Thousands rally for peace in Tel Aviv
Thousands gathered in Rabin square
The crowds gathered in Rabin Square
Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv to demand the immediate withdrawal of the Israel army and settlers from Palestinian territories.

Voices from the Conflict

What the Israeli action combined with the terrorist bombings have done is to foster more hatred than anything over the last 30 years of occupation

Gila Svirsky, Israeli peace activist

  Read her story

The protest, organised by the Peace Now movement, also called on the Israeli Government to pursue the Saudi peace plan which specifies a full withdrawal in return for full peace with Arab countries.

The demonstration - the largest by Israel's peace camp since the intifada began in September 2000 - gathered in Rabin Square, named after the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The rally came as priests in the West Bank town of Bethlehem prepared to hold religious services in the Church of the Nativity, the first since the siege of Palestinian gunmen by Israeli troops there ended two days ago.

Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests will hold Sunday services after keepers of the holy site cleared away all the waste created during the five-week stand-off.

But there were reports of further military operations in the West Bank overnight.

Israeli army sources said several brief incursions had been made - in the town of Tulkarm and in a village near Qalqilya - acting on specific intelligence to detain Palestinians suspected of "anti-Israeli activities".

'No Israeli consensus'

The leader of the main opposition Meretz party, Yossi Sarid, said the turn-out in Tel Aviv was a sign that "there is a peace camp in Israel and it is raising its voice".

Palestinian fighters in Gaza
In Gaza the Palestinians are readying for battle
"From tonight, [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon can be assured there is no consensus for a military operation" in Gaza, he added.

Parliamentary speaker Avraham Burg, a critic of the Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, called for his Labour party to withdraw from Mr Sharon's hardline coalition government.

Police said about 60,000 people attended the rally; Peace Now put the number at 100,000.

Tension in Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza are continuing to brace themselves for a large military incursion after a suicide bomb attack on Israeli civilians last Tuesday, though the Israeli Government has been reviewing its plans.

Gaza map
Israel's Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer - a Labour hawk - says he is ready to look again at a proposed attack on Gaza because details of the military plans have been extensively leaked and Palestinian militants had been given too much time to prepare possible booby traps around targets.

However he insisted that it was a purely military decision, not the result of any foreign intervention.

Palestinian medics in Gaza have retrieved the body of a 13-year-old boy who had bled to death as the Israel soldiers who had shot him prevented a Palestinian ambulance from approaching by firing further warning shots.

The death occurred on Friday, when Palestinian teenagers were protesting near an Israeli army outpost at the Qarni crossing. Two other boys were wounded but ambulances were able to reach them.

Palestinian militants have been preparing to defend the territory and residents have been stocking up on food.

"We are preparing for any possible incursion by the Zionist enemy into Gaza and if it happens we are ready with what we have... our light weapons and pipe bombs," one masked militant said.

The BBC's Richard Forrest
"The biggest peace rally since Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted"
See also:

11 May 02 | Middle East
Arab leaders denounce violence
11 May 02 | Middle East
Church emerges unharmed from siege
10 May 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Calm end to siege
10 May 02 | Middle East
No winners from siege deal
11 May 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Bethlehem clean-up
10 May 02 | Middle East
In pictures: End of Bethlehem siege
09 May 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Bethlehem siege
09 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem siege: Inside the negotiations
10 May 02 | Middle East
Gaza gives militants hero's welcome
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