Jewish Settlers Protest Gaza Pullout Plan (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/31/05 2:42 AM)
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JERUSALEM - Tens of thousands of Jewish settlers and their supporters
protested outside parliament against Israel´s planned withdrawal from
the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, saying Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon does not have a mandate to dismantle settlements and
must hold a national referendum.
During the rally, one of the largest in Jerusalem´s history,
demonstrators joined in a mass pledge to go to Gaza to try to disrupt
the dismantling of settlements, set for this summer. However, the
protest was unlikely to deter Sharon who stabilized his coalition,
despite efforts of opponents to topple him.
"Ariel Sharon, you have no mandate to expel Jews," said Effie Eitam,
a pro-settler lawmaker, to a crowd estimated at about 130,000.
The settler protest came as a de-facto truce was taking hold and
Israel was preparing to hand security control of West Bank towns to
Palestinian police commanders said they were told to prepare to take
control of four West Bank cities - Ramallah, Qalqiliya, Tulkarem and
Jericho - on Wednesday. However, Israeli officials said no steps
would be taken ahead of a meeting of the Israeli Security Cabinet on
Palestinian security officials said they were told by their Israeli
counterparts that troops would take down some roadblocks ringing West
Bank towns, rolling back security measures imposed after violence
erupted in September 2000. Israeli forces reoccupied West Bank towns
in April 2002, after a series of particularly bloody suicide
bombings, but have pulled back to the outskirts of population centers
in most areas since then.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has won a commitment from militant
groups to stop attacks, and Israel has scaled back its military
operations in return - but no formal cease-fire declarations have
In another significant move, an Israeli official said Sunday that
Israel would grant an amnesty to West Bank fugitives, ending its
relentless search for dozens of militants suspected of carrying out
or planning attacks. In four years of conflict, dozens have been
killed in Israeli raids and many more arrested.
The amnesty would allow Abbas to fulfill a key campaign pledge made
before he handily won a Jan. 9 election to replace the late Yasser
Arafat - that fugitives would be allowed to reintegrate into
Palestinian society with no fear of Israeli reprisal.
Israel has long held the right to strike at militants, though
Palestinians called the operations assassinations and human rights
groups condemned the practice.
Israel´s army chief met Monday morning with senior officers to
discuss the scope and timing of a release of Palestinian prisoners,
another key Palestinian demand, defense officials said.
Abbas wants some of the approximately 7,000 Palestinians held in
Israeli prisoners to be set free.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Sunday that although a release was
acceptable to Israel in principle, prisoners who killed Israelis
could not be freed in the near term. Mofaz left open the possibility
that criteria could be eased in the future.
Abbas and Sharon were heading toward their first meeting since 2003,
when Abbas was prime minister. Feb. 8 was emerging as the date for
the summit, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to arrive in
the region two days earlier.
Both sides appeared eager to put four years of violence behind them,
but the bloodshed has left its mark on their ability to trust each
other. Each side has been qualifying its declarations about peace and
quiet by adding that the continuation depends on the actions of the
For the meantime, though, gestures, meetings and practical steps were
in the works. Security commanders were to meet again Monday in what
is becoming routine coordination - a stark contrast to months of
The atmosphere could quickly sour if there is a serious Palestinian
attack or Israeli military strike.
Israel´s Channel Two TV showed video Sunday of an advanced radar
tracking system being installed next to Gaza to track incoming
rockets heading for Sderot, a much-battered Israeli town. The radar
is part of the U.S.-Israeli Nautilus system, designed to intercept
and destroy small rockets with laser beams. The report said the rest
of the system would be installed later. (Copyright 2005 Associated
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