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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Sharon shelves vote on Gaza plan
Ariel Sharon
Sharon has been weakened by Likud's vote against his plan
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has postponed indefinitely a cabinet vote on his plan to withdraw Israeli settlements and troops from Gaza.

Instead, he will only discuss the proposal with ministers at Sunday's cabinet meetings, Israeli TV said.

Opinion polls suggest Mr Sharon's plan for a unilateral Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank is backed by most Israelis.

However, Mr Sharon's Likud party voted it down earlier this month.

Critics say leaving Gaza unconditionally would reward the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Two right-wing parties in Mr Sharon's coalition have threatened to withdraw their support should a single settlement be evacuated, leaving the government without a majority in parliament.

In the face of opposition within Likud and his own cabinet, Mr Sharon offered a trimmed-down version of his plan that would mean removing only three of 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza.

But his main rival, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the compromise, leading Mr Sharon to decide to revert to his original plan.

Mr Sharon says it is the best way to break the bloody stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The disengagement plan has received backing from US President George W Bush.

However, it has been criticised by Palestinians, because it denies refugees the right to return to their homes in Israel.

Arab critics also say that the plan allows Israel to retain large settlement blocks in the West Bank.


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