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Last Updated: Monday, 8 August 2005, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Gaza plan on track, says Sharon
Ariel Sharon eyes a young woman wearing colour of anti-disengagement protesters
Public support for Mr Sharon's plan appears to be quite solid
Israel's prime minister is determined to remove settlers from Gaza despite the resignation of senior cabinet member Binyamin Netanyahu, say aides.

The finance minister quit on Sunday in protest at the planned withdrawal which is due to begin next week.

"This resignation will have no impact ... and there will be no delay," a senior official told AFP news agency.

Mr Netanyahu is expected to challenge PM Ariel Sharon for leadership of the Likud party before the next election.

It's good to give us back a very tiny piece of our land, but I am not optimistic about the future.
Esam, Gaza

Sources close to Mr Sharon quoted by Haaretz newspaper said no other cabinet ministers were expected to join Mr Netanyahu's departure from the government.

Mr Netanyahu submitted his resignation letter on Sunday, shortly before the cabinet voted by 17 to five to approve the initial phase of withdrawals from Gaza's three most isolated Jewish settlements - Kfar Darom, Netzarim and Morag.

"A unilateral withdrawal without anything in return is not the way," Mr Netanyahu said in his resignation letter.

Binyamin Netanyahu
Many see Netanyahu's move as part of a political duel with Sharon
"I cannot be part of this irresponsible move that divides the people and harms Israel's security and will in the future pose a danger for the wholeness of Jerusalem."

Israel's stock market dropped 5% within an hour of the resignation, but shares rebounded in Monday's trading.

Mr Sharon has said economic policy would not be affected, and swiftly appointed his confidant, vice premier Ehud Olmert, as interim finance minister.

Public support

The prime minister can draw comfort from the latest Israeli opinion polls which indicate a firm majority in favour of the pullout.

A survey in Yediot Aharonot newspaper said 55% backed the disengagement policy, with just 39% opposing it.

Regarding the resignation of Mr Netanyahu - himself a former prime minister and Likud party leader - 47% believed it was motivated by rivalry over leadership of the Likud, while just 29% thought he acted from political conviction.

Click below to see a detailed map of the Israeli disengagement plan

In a separate development, Israel has detained three suspected Jewish militants, including one US citizen, amid fears of violent anti-Arab activity by opponents of the pullout.

The three were arrested at the funeral of an army deserter who gunned down four Israeli Arabs on a bus on Thursday, before being beaten to death by an angry crowd.

The Israeli government plans to pull more than 8,000 settlers and the soldiers that protect them out of the Gaza Strip as a unilateral security measure.

Israel is also planning to withdraw from four small settlements in the West Bank.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.

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