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Settlers plan human chain around Israeli parliament to protest Gaza pullout (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/31/05 6:12 AM ET)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=5&u=/afp/20050131/wl_mideast_afp/mideast_050131111230 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 ultimate champion.

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 government´s plan.

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 Rice.

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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