Tens of Thousands of Israelis Protest Gaza Plan(REUTERS) By Allyn Fisher-Ilan JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/30/05 04:20 PM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Israelis opposed to a plan
to uproot settlers from occupied Gaza and the West Bank staged their
biggest rally for months on Sunday to demand Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon put the plan to a referendum.
Sharon´s initiative to remove all the Jewish settlements from Gaza
and four of the 120 in the West Bank has helped revive hopes for a
new Middle East peace following Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat´s
death last year.
Protesters massed near the Israeli parliament as a helicopter hovered
overhead, and security was tightened around Sharon´s office nearby.
The plan to give up some land captured in the 1967 war has roused
fears of violent confrontations.
The demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs against the pullout.
They held signs that read: "Expel Jews -- never again!" and "The
people have decided Sharon is bad for the Jews."
Settler leaders said Sunday´s demonstration was the biggest since
Sharon announced his plan last year.
But chances for preventing a pullout have decreased with Sharon´s
formation of a unity government last year with the left-wing Labour
party and with several opposition parties vowing to support the plan
from outside his cabinet.
"I don´t know if this (protest) will help but at least we can express
how we feel and we hope we will not be ignored," said Galit Kahune, a
Gaza settler. "I very much fear this (withdrawal) will create a rift
among the people."
Some right-wing hard-liners, including members of Sharon´s Likud
party, spoke to the cheering crowd.
Former cabinet minister Benny Elon, fired by Sharon after he voted
against the proposal in cabinet, called on the prime minister to
resign, saying: "This people is loyal to its land and will not let
you uproot them."
HARDLINERS, SETTLERS URGE REFERENDUM
While polls show the plan has the support of most Israelis and
Western countries see it as a possible step to peace with the
Palestinians, many settlers say it would sacrifice a Biblical
Hardliners and settler leaders have called for a nationwide
referendum on the plan.
Sharon has ruled out such a move, saying opponents are just trying to
delay the pullout, due to start this year. But some Likud members --
including his main rival and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu --
are in favor.
Hardliners have warned of violent clashes between settlers and
Israeli security forces during a pullout, and have urged soldiers and
policemen to disobey orders to take part.
"It is clear to me this will not pass quietly," said Shalom Fleiser,
from the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. "I feel that people will be hurt
during the evacuation."
"This situation will lead us to the brink of civil war," said Yair
Kali, 48, of the West Bank settlement of Psagot.
The largest anti-pullout protest was in July when more than 100,000
Israelis joined hands in a 90 km (55 mile) human chain from Jerusalem
to the Gaza Strip.
Some 8,000 Jewish settlers live in heavily protected enclaves in the
Gaza Strip alongside more than 1.3 million Palestinians. More than
230,000 settlers live in the West Bank, home to ten times as many
Palestinians would welcome an Israeli withdrawal any of the territory
they want for a state, but fear Sharon´s plan is a ruse to keep hold
of the much larger West Bank settlements.
New Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has brought a lull in a
four-year-old uprising after he was elected to succeed Arafat, has
said he would coordinate with Israel on the pullout if it is part of
broader talks on statehood. (© Reuters 2005 01/30/05)
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