Gaza pullout plan enters decisive phase

Published February 20, 2005

Al Quds, Feb 19: Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, which Israel has occupied for nearly 40 years, moves into a decisive phase on Sunday with its expected adoption by the government.

Cabinet ministers are due to vote on the evacuation of over 8,000 Jewish settlers living in 21 settlements in Gaza and another four isolated enclaves in the northern West Bank.

Sunday's vote comes just four days after the parliament adopted a law which will grant compensation pay-outs to the evacuees. Commentators predicted that Mr Sharon would see his plan pushed through without any major hurdles, thanks to the backing of MPs from the centre-left Labour party, which joined his ruling coalition last month.

Seventeen ministers are likely to back the withdrawal, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, while five are expected to oppose it, all of them from Mr Sharon's right-wing Likud party. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he would be voting against the plan.

Despite intense efforts to scupper the controversial plan at every stage, the settler lobby and other extreme right-wing elements, along with a dozen or so Likud hard liners, are likely to face yet another defeat. -AFP

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