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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 19:44 GMT 20:44 UK
Sharon sets date for vote on Gaza
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon announced a quick debate on his Gaza plan
Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip will be put to parliament in two weeks.

Speaking at the start of a new session of parliament, Mr Sharon said the plan would be debated on 25 October.

Under the terms of the plan, troops and 8,000 Jewish settlers would begin to leave early in 2005.

Parliament later rejected Mr Sharon's speech setting out his plans for Gaza by 53 votes to 44. However the vote is not binding on the government.

The announcement of the date for a debate on the disengagement plan came as Israel continued military operations against suspected Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip.

Israel has occupied Gaza, home to 1.3m Palestinians, since 1967.

Divisive issue

Mr Sharon's announcement of a prompt debate means that MPs will vote on the actual proposals just a day after the Israeli cabinet discusses the plan.

Promising "constant supervision" of the progress of the plan, Mr Sharon added: "We will reserve the right to determine the state of security and adapt the plan to the reality, with the main priority of defending ourselves and preventing terror."

The disengagement plan has been welcomed in Washington but Mr Sharon has found it harder to win political support at home.

Earlier this year, members of his Likud faction voted against the proposals in a referendum.

This government gives the impression it is trying to flee from peace rather than make peace
Opposition leader Shimon Peres
And Mr Sharon no longer enjoys a majority in the Knesset after two small pro-settler parties withdrew their support for his ruling coalition.

The prime minister has vowed to press ahead with the plan and hopes to win support for the plan from left-wing opposition MPs.

The BBC's Matthew Price in Jerusalem says the vote will be the first time the Knesset has debated the plan.

If the MPs reject the plan then the whole process could grind to a halt, our correspondent adds.

Leader of the opposition Labour party Shimon Peres insisted that Mr Sharon could not count on his party's support.

Alluding to comments last week by Mr Sharon's chief of staff Dov Weisglass, who told an Israeli newspaper that the disengagement plan would effectively "freeze" the peace process, Mr Peres said:

"This government gives the impression it is trying to flee from peace rather than make peace."

Sharon defiant

In his address to the Knesset Mr Sharon countered claims that Israel was no longer supporting the US-sponsored road map peace plan, blaming the long-standing political impasse on Palestinian militant attacks.

"As long as the Palestinians distance themselves from their responsibilities there will be no advance in political negotiations," he said.

"Negotiations will be renewed when the Palestinian meet their previous commitments.

"The policy of my government is that there will be no advance politically without the destruction of terror," he added.

Jewish settler groups reacted furiously to the announcement of a date for the vote.

The Yesha Council, an umbrella group for settlers, demanded that Mr Sharon call early elections, claiming that his plan is "tearing apart the nation".

The plan also envisages an Israeli withdrawal from a number of isolated Jewish settlements in the northern part of the West Bank.




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