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Poll shows dip in Israeli support for Gaza pullout (REUTERS) JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 05/18/05 06:47 AM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=8528668 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli public support for a Gaza withdrawal has slipped in recent months but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s plan is still backed by a clear majority in the Jewish state, a new opinion poll showed on Wednesday.

The survey conducted by Tel Aviv University at the beginning of May pointed to a steady erosion of a previous two-thirds majority for what will be Israel´s first removal of Jewish settlements from land Palestinians want for a state.

It found that 56 percent of Israeli Jews back the planned withdrawal set for mid-August, down from 59 percent in April and 62 percent in February.

Another 38 percent were opposed -- up from 36 percent last month and 29 percent three months ago -- while the remaining 6 percent were undecided on the plan to evacuate 21 settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank.

The researchers attributed the decline in support to growing concern that the withdrawal would hurt Israeli security.

Sharon has billed a Gaza pullout as a way to "disengage" from a key point of conflict with the Palestinians and make the Jewish state more secure.

But researchers cited a "widespread assessment that ... chaos will prevail in the Gaza Strip."

"A majority believes that after the departure of Israeli forces from Gaza, attacks against Israel from the area such as Qassam rocket fire, will intensify," they said in a statement.

Palestinians welcome any withdrawal but many fear Sharon is trying to trade the coastal strip for a tighter grip on the West Bank, where the vast majority of Israel´s 240,000 settlers live.

The survey found a third of Israelis doubted the withdrawal would begin on schedule, for fear that Israeli rightists would "mobilize masses of people" to block troops from evacuating settlers from land they see as a biblical birthright.

It said 35 percent expected Sharon would meet the target date, but 37 percent think a delay is possible while 12 percent do not think the withdrawal will take place at all. The poll had a margin for error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

The findings were consistent with a Maariv newspaper poll on May 6 showing support for the pullout had slipped to 54 percent, down from 61 percent three weeks earlier. But most previous polls have shown support of 60 percent or more(© Reuters 2005. 05/18/05)

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