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SETTLERS PROTEST - SHARON DEFIANT

Angry Settlers: ‘We Pledge To Do All We Can, Short Of Violence, To Halt The Withdrawal!’

Sharon Cabinet Decides To Hand Back Control Of Four Palestinian Towns

Israeli Officials: ‘Iraqi and Palestinian Elections Offer Historic Opportunities For Democracy And Peace’

Anti-withdrawal demo Photo: Sasson Tiram

Tens of thousands of settlers and other opponents of Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal plan demonstrated outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem. Several MKs from Sharon’s own Likud party condemned the Gaza evacuation planned for next summer. However, at the latest cabinet session, Sharon decided to speed up plans to also hand back control of Palestinian towns on the West Bank.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Tens of thousands of right-wingers warned Prime Minister Sharon they are not giving up. They took a public pledge to all they can, short of violence, to block the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.

The protestors came from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and all over Israel. Some 150,000 settlers and protestors packed into hundreds of buses which tied up traffic in the area around Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Hundreds of police reinforcements also deployed around the Knesset compound to prevent any violence. The rally slogan was 'Sharon, let the people decide!' and some even waved banners reading 'Sharon is a dictator!' While the crowd cheered, speaker after speaker including some MKs from Sharon's own Likud party condemned the disengagement plan. They demanded that Sharon hold a national referendum on the issue which has split Israeli society.

Israel Medad

Israel Medad, a settler leader, believes there is still a chance of blocking Sharon's withdrawal plans:

The protestors, who earlier set up a tent-camp near the Knesset, plan on holding the rally for twenty-four hours. And in a public display of defiance they pledged to do all in their power, short of violence, to stop the evacuation. Settler leaders have hinted they will organize huge sit-down demonstrations with thousands of protestors around the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the Israeli Police plan on deploying some eight-thousand personnel to carry out the evacuation, in coordination with the Israeli Army. Jerusalem Police Chief Ilan Franco also says he is keeping a close eye on the Temple Mount area to prevent any extremist attack on the Muslim holy sites.The rally is not cutting any ice with the Prime Minister. Just hours earlier, Sharon told the cabinet he is speeding up plans. After Defense Minister Mofaz met with Palestinian official Dachlan, Sharon agreed to hand back control of four Palestinian towns on the West Bank: Ramallah, Tul Karem, Kalkilya and Jericho. The IDF retook the towns after the outbreak of the intifada.

Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Cabinet Minister Ehud Olmert says Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is headed in the right direction and acting against terrorism:

So, the atmosphere between the anti-withdrawal camp and the government is now more charged than ever. The level of rhetoric has not reached the bitter times before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995; but the question on many Israelis' minds is, will it?

THE IRAQI ELECTION: Israeli officials see a similarity between the Iraqi elections and the recent Palestinian ballot on January 9th. They noted that despite the threat of terrorism both elections have proved that 'ballots can be stronger than bullets'. In addition, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority are turning out to be the only democracies in the whole Arab world of twenty-two states. The officials see the two elections as new hope for historic opportunities in the Middle East.

David Essing

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