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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
Sharon 'at risk of assassination'
Ariel Sharon
Settlers have been angered by Mr Sharon's plans
Israel's opposition leader has said Ariel Sharon risks being assassinated by extremists opposed to his Gaza withdrawal plan.

Shimon Peres told Maariv newspaper he was concerned by what he saw as mounting incitement by the far right.

He said the atmosphere reminded him of the days preceding the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Leading right-wing rabbis have been urging soldiers to refuse orders to dismantle Jewish settlements in Gaza.

'A close eye'

"I am afraid someone will try and assassinate the prime minister," Mr Peres said.

I hope the defence establishment, which certainly drew its conclusions after [Rabin's] murder, is keeping a close eye on Sharon
Shimon Peres
"I am very fearful of the incitement, from the grave things that are being heard," he added.

In November 1995, after relentless criticism from hardliners over peace deals with the Palestinians, Yitzhak Rabin was killed by an ultranationalist Israeli during a peace rally.

"I hope the defence establishment, which certainly drew its conclusions after the murder, is keeping a close eye on Sharon," Mr Peres said.

Israel is planning to pull all its 7,000 settlers from Gaza and the troops that protect them as part of a disengagement plan. Four West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated.

The country will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace.

Mr Sharon says the move will boost Israel's security.

Army 'worried

Israel's army chief of staff on Tuesday condemned a call last week by prominent rabbis for soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate Jewish settlements.

"Insubordination is dangerous to us as an army, as a society and as a nation. This is not legitimate and inappropriate," Lt Gen Moshe Yaalon said a navy memorial ceremony.

"Don't put us in impossible situations.

"I call upon all those involved, from across the political spectrum, to show responsibility and not to undermine the [military]."

Polls suggest that most Israelis support the disengagement plan but it has sparked fierce controversy.

Settlers, who once considered Sharon a champion of their cause, have branded him a traitor.

Some have even warned of civil war if the plan goes ahead.

Mr Sharon opposes a referendum on the issue or early elections on the grounds that they could delay the withdrawal, which is set to begin early next year.

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