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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Israel votes to refund settlers
Settlers Avi Farchan, 58, left, and his son Ofer, 24 on a protest walk near the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi
Settlers have been protesting against Ariel Sharon's plan
The Israeli cabinet has approved a bill to pay compensation to settlers leaving Gaza under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan.

The bill, which was approved by 13 votes to six, also envisages punishment for those who refuse to leave.

Under Mr Sharon's controversial plan, all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four of 120 in the West Bank would be removed.

On Tuesday, the Israeli parliament is due to vote on the withdrawal itself.

"The law will ease like as much as possible for the settlers who will be evacuated," Mr Sharon told his cabinet ahead of the vote.

"I'm sure that even those who are opposed to disengagement will not want to make life difficult for the settlers."

The plan has divided Mr Sharon's government, and his Likud party.

Four of the six votes against it were cast by Likud ministers.

Crucial vote

Families who leave the occupied territories can expect to receive between $200,000 to $300,000 in compensation.

The plan, fiercely opposed by settlers and hard-line politicians, envisages that some 9,000 settlers leave their homes.

For the first time in history, Israel will withdraw not only from a land it occupied, it will also retreat from an ideological position long entrenched in the right

Their settlements are built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.

The Israeli prime minister claims that withdrawing settlements from the Gaza Strip, and concentrating on bigger settlements in the West Bank, will improve security across the country.

He is going to lay out his plan before the Knesset - the Israeli parliament - on Monday ahead of a crucial vote on Tuesday.

Turmoil

Correspondents say there could be a government crisis if the vote goes against him.

Israeli political analyst Gerald Steinberg warns that "the divisions will not only still be there, they will probably grow more intense after this vote".

But the proposal, which has also the support of the majority of Israeli citizens and is backed by left-wing parties, is widely expected to be passed.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says nevertheless, the way ahead is not likely to be smooth, with Mr Sharon's proposal throwing Israeli politics "into turmoil".




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