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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Israeli court backs pullout plan
Jewish settlers in Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gaza Strip
Settlers have vowed to defy the plan to the end
Israel's Supreme Court has upheld the government's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, removing the last legal obstacle in the way of a pullout.

The court rejected an appeal by Jewish settlers, who said the plan was a violation of their human rights.

Israel plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank, beginning in August.

The move is fiercely opposed by settlers and their supporters, who have tried to thwart it for months.

Ten of the 11 judges upheld the plan as legal. One judge said the move was unconstitutional and should be cancelled.

Israel will pull all 8,000 settlers out of Gaza and the troops that protect them, while maintaining control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace. The planned withdrawal from the West Bank settlements will follow.

Preparations for the pullout continued on Wednesday night, when Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Youssef agreed on steps to co-ordinate security measures during the withdrawal from Gaza.

'Message to settlers'

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says this is a major legal victory for the government, which has already passed all the necessary legislation to carry out the withdrawal.

This was fully expected. There's no surprise
Yoram Sheftel
Settlers' lawyer

But she says settler movements have made it clear they will continue a popular protest against the plan outside the country's legal and political institutions.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni praised the court's decision, saying she hoped it "sends a message to the lone settler that the plan is going ahead".

Yoram Sheftel, a lawyer for the settlers, said the court's ruling was a foregone conclusion.

"This was fully expected. There's no surprise. I'm not disappointed because we didn't have any expectations," he was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

The ruling follows a rash of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza in recent days.

Israel Radio said Gen Mofaz asked Mr Youssef to prevent mortar attacks on Israeli targets while the withdrawal is taking place and to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza, AP reported.

Recent opinion polls suggest a fall in support for the withdrawal plan among Israelis, with one survey by Israel's Channel 2 television registering an all-time low of 48%.


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