Jewish Settlers Protest Gaza Pullout Plan (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/31/05 7:04 AM)
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JERUSALEM - Tens of thousands of Jewish settlers and their supporters
protested outside parliament against Israeli plans to withdraw 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 Sunday night´s rally, one of the largest in Jerusalem´s
history, demonstrators pledged to go to Gaza to try to disrupt the
evacuation 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
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz scheduled a meeting later Monday
with Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Dahlan, their second session in
three days, Israeli defense officials said.
The men are expected to complete preparations for a handover of
security control to the Palestinians in several West Bank towns and a
possible release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners held
Palestinian security officials said they were told by their Israeli
counterparts that in addition to leaving West Bank towns, troops
would take down some roadblocks, 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. About 7,000
Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons.
Mofaz said Sunday that prisoners who killed Israelis could not be
freed in the near term but left open the possibility that criteria
could be eased in the future.
Abbas and Sharon were headed 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 was to arrive in
the region two days before.
In Jerusalem, several hundred settlers spent the night in tents
outside parliament, and resumed their demonstration Monday. Hundreds
of demonstrators, most of them teenagers, wore orange shirts, the
color adopted by the opponents of the Gaza withdrawal.
Tova Felix, 57, one of the first Israelis to move to the West Bank,
said settlers fear for the future of dozens of West Bank settlements
as well. "This demonstration is not just about Gush Katif (the Gaza
settlements)," she said. "It is about the future of the settlements."
(Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/31/05)
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