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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 04:48 GMT 05:48 UK
Knesset votes to back Gaza plan
Anti-disengagement demonstrators outside Knesset
Jewish settlers feel betrayed by Ariel Sharon
Israeli legislators have voted in favour of the controversial plan to withdraw Jewish settlers from Gaza.

The Knesset voted 67-45 to back Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposal, with seven abstentions.

Mr Sharon had to rely on the support of the main opposition party, while four government ministers threatened to resign unless there was a referendum.

The prime minister sacked two of his ministers, after they voted against the controversial plan.

In Gaza, the Israeli army on Thursday ended a two-day incursion into the Khan Younis refugee camp in which 17 Palestinians were killed.

Ultimatum

Tuesday's move marks the first time the Israeli government has voted on the principle of removing settlers from occupied Palestinian land.

DISENGAGEMENT PLAN
Israel will pull out all its 8,000 settlers from 21 fortified enclaves in Gaza, and the troops that protect them
Israel will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace
Four isolated West Bank settlements also to be evacuated

Under the proposal, Israel will withdraw all its settlers - and the troops protecting them - but it will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace.

Four West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated.

The vote came at the end of a stormy, two-day debate.

Four ministers from Mr Sharon's Likud party, including Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, voted for the plan but warned Mr Sharon they would resign if he did not agree within two weeks to hold a referendum.

Mr Sharon carried out his threat to dismiss all Likud ministers who voted against the plan, firing Cabinet Minister Uzi Landau and deputy Internal Security Minister Michael Ratzon.


The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says the prime minister will now have to either heal the rifts within Likud or change his coalition government in order to carry out the plan.

The proposed evacuations are to be carried out in phases - and each phase will require approval with a cabinet vote.

The US, which has always backed the proposal as beneficial for the peace plan known as the roadmap, said the plan was a step in the right direction.

But a leading Palestinian negotiator told the BBC the Israelis were "negotiating with themselves".

"Their seriousness will depend largely on their willingness to come back to the negotiating table with the Palestinian Authority," Saeb Erekat said.

Talk of betrayal

According to the latest opinion poll, 65% of Israelis are in favour of the pullout, but religious settlers are fiercely opposed to the move.

They believe the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was given to the Jews by God.

Talk of civil war and betrayal have followed the prime minister, who has received threats, the BBC's Lucy Williamson reports.

GAZA STATISTICS
Palestinian pop: 1.3m
Area: 360 sq km
In poverty: 75%
Unemployed: 37%
Under 15: 49%
Pop growth: >4% per year
Malnutrition: 13.3%
Israeli settlers: About 8,000
Sources: World Bank 2003 & 2004; Israel CBS, CIA World Factbook

"When you push someone into a corner, you cannot predict what he will do," settler Aharon Tzur told Reuters news agency.

"The man who helped us... is betraying us now."

Schools in Gaza settlements were closed for the day so children could show their opposition to the proposals.

Mr Sharon was heckled on Monday as he urged the Knesset to back his plan.

He acknowledged the "pain, anger and despair" of settlers, but he said the evacuation would lead Israel "forward on the path to peace with the Palestinians".

A further bill on compensation for Jewish settlers is expected to follow.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip since capturing them in the 1967 war. It has settled about 400,000 Jewish citizens there, among a 3.5-million-strong Palestinian population. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel does not accept this.




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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Independent Sharon wins historic vote to withdraw from Gaza - 48 mins ago
CNN Knesset OKs Gaza pullout - 49 mins ago
Guardian Unlimited Into the storm - 57 mins ago
ABCNEWS.com Israeli Parliament Backs Sharon Gaza Pullout Plan - 2 hrs ago
TelegraphGaza plan survives revolt - 2 hrs ago
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