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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 17:04 GMT
Israel jails dissenting soldiers
Soldiers are refusing to serve in disputed territories
Two Israeli reserve soldiers are to be jailed for 28 days for refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The sentence, decided by their battalion commanders, comes a day after another reservist soldier was jailed for a similar term, for abandoning an army road block in the West Bank.

The pair had signed a petition backed by a growing number of Israeli soldiers objecting to serving in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

They are the first of the signatories to be imprisoned over the petition, which has prompted heated debate in Israel.

He wants to serve the country, but is not willing to go against his conscience

Amit Mashiach, soldier
The movement behind the petition - called "There is a Choice " - denounced the sentence and said the protest action would continue, according to Israel's centre-left Ha'aretz newspaper.

Israeli police are considering charging soldiers who disobey orders to serve in the disputed territories with inciting revolt, the newspaper reported.

The soldiers who were jailed were named as 31-year-old Staff Sergeant Amit Gal, from a parachute regiment, and Sergeant Major O M, 27, from an armoured unit.

They refused to report for duty after being called up for "operational duties".

Opinion divided

Ha'aretz quoted one of the movement's members, Amit Mashiach, as saying: "Amit [Gal] begged his commanders not to send him to the territories and to find something for him to do within the Green Line [Israel's pre-1967 borders]."

The army says dissenters could harm the country's safety
"He wants to serve the country, but is not willing to go against his conscience."

The petition began on 25 January, when 52 soldiers signed the declaration.

Since then, nearly 300 dissenters have pledged their support.

The controversial document has sparked a fierce debate in Israel, with the army saying it could jeopardise the security of the Jewish state.

The BBC's James Reynolds
"The peace camp has been trying to get its movement back off the ground"
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"There is a general disaffection with Ariel Sharon's government"
Ruven Mahav, Council of Security and Peace
"The complaint is in order to overcome the terrible impasse"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Dissent in the ranks
18 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel reservists back occupation end
02 Feb 02 | Middle East
Reservists' rebellion highlights cracks
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Split widens over Israeli reservists
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel suspends rebel reservists
01 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's culture of reservists
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