Settlers plan human chain around Israeli parliament to protest Gaza pullout (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/31/05 6:12 AM ET)
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JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli settlers and their supporters were planning
to form a human chain around the parliament as part of mass protests
against the government´s planned pullout from the Gaza Strip.
Police said around 130,000 people took part in a mass rally around
the Knesset on Sunday night, reserving much of their anger towards
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who for years was seen as their
Although most of the settlers left for their homes on Sunday night,
hundreds slept in the Rose Garden outside the parliament building and
were planning to take part in the next wave of protests against the
It was not immediately clear if there were enough settlers on Monday
to form a chain around the parliament.
Settlers have staged a series of protests against the plan to uproot
the 8,000 Jewish residents of Gaza by September, but Sharon has vowed
to implement his plan, come what may.
While originally presenting his so-called disengagement plan as a
unilateral measure, Sharon has now also indicated a willingness to
coordinate it with the new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
Speakers on Sunday night urged the crowd to "fight" the plan with
determination but did not endorse calls for soldiers to disobey
orders to implement the evacuation.
"You have no right, Mr Sharon, to chase Jews out of their homes, nor
tear people apart. History will judge you," said MP Effi Eitam, from
the ultra-right National Religious Party, who quit Sharon´s cabinet
last June over the project.
Sharon´s standing with the settlers, whom he once famously urged
to "seize the hills", appears to have reached an all-time low just as
his government´s relations with the Palestinians are on the upturn.
His Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz was expected to meet on Monday night
or Tuesday with former Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan
to finalise arrangements for the transfer of security control in up
to five West Bank cities, including in the Palestinian Authority´s
political capital Ramallah.
Sharon and Abbas are themselves expected to hold what would be the
first Israeli-Palestinian leaders´ summit for more than four years in
around 10 days time.
Although no date has yet been set, it could well be timed to coincide
with a visit to the region by new US Secretary of State Condoleezza
Three of Sharon´s top advisors were due to meet Rice in Washington
Monday in order to prepare the ground for the visit.
"They will in particular talk to Dr Rice about her programme during
her visit to the Israel and the Palestinian territories," a source
close to Sharon told AFP.
"We will also update her on the contacts with the Palestinians, on
the possibility of a return to a long-term calm and of the necessity
of dismantling the armed Palestinian groups," he added.
Rice has said Israel´s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the
Palestinian elections have created a "time of opportunity" in the
Middle East and the United States intends to play an active role.
"I plan to go out to discuss with them, to look at what we can do. Of
course America has a very important role to play, and we will play
it," Rice told Fox News on Sunday.
Sharon has been impressed by Abbas´s efforts to end the four-year
armed Palestinian uprising.
The Palestinian Authority president has already persuaded armed
factions such as Hamas to a temporarily halt their campaign of anti-
Israeli attacks but wants Israel to reciprocate by freezing its
military activities in the occupied territories and release
Palestinian security prisoners.
Abbas meanwhile was in Moscow where he was due to meet President
Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials later Monday.
"You are the recognized leader of the Palestinian people and we will
actively support you," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told
Abbas in front of reporters.
Abbas said the Palestinians had "high hopes" of diplomatic support
from Moscow as efforts to restart top-level peace negotiations
between the Palestinians and the Israelis continue. (Copyright © 2005
Agence France Presse. 01/31/05)
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