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The Knesset's vote marks the first time ever, an Israeli parliament has authorized the removal of Jewish settlements. The withdrawal issue has split Mr. Sharon's Likud Party and his allies throughout Israel. Also, it prompted fierce opposition from thousands of Jewish and Israeli settlers who lived for years in the area. Thousands of angry settlers gathered outside the Israeli parliament and Prime Minister Sharon's residence. Security was at its highest level. Army troops and police unites were everywhere, controlling the streets of Jerusalem during the vote. Under the plan, Israel will withdraw all the settlers, including the troops who were in charge of their protection. However, Israel retain full control over Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace.


Four additional West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated, as an indivisible part of the original withdrawal plan as proposed by Prime Minister Sharon. The White House, who has always backed Sharon's daring initiative toward a complete regional peace plan known as the roadmap, said Sharon's withdrawal plan was in the right direction and an important step toward the safety and security of Israel and the Palestinians. In Gaza itself, the Israeli army has ended a two-day operation in which 17 Palestinians were killed. It was reported by the western press that the raid on the Khan Younis refugee camp wounded more than 80 people and caused serious damages in the area, leaving rubbles and full destruction behind. Following series of mortar attacks by Palestinian militants on nearby Jewish settlements, the Israeli army stepped up incursions to try to crush fierce Palestinian resistance before any withdrawal.

"The man who helped us... is betraying us now."

Talk of betrayal: "This is the first time the Israeli Knesset has been able to vote on the plan and security around the building is tight, reported" an official spokesman of the Israeli government. Foreign correspondents covering the events in Gaza reported that schools in Gaza settlements were closed for the day so children could show their opposition to the proposals. Despite the family atmosphere outside the Knesset, there is no mistaking the seriousness of the settlers' opposition, our correspondent says. Religious settlers believe the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was given to the Jews by God. Talk of civil war and betrayal have followed the prime minister, who has received threats, our correspondent adds. "When you push someone into a corner, you cannot predict what he will do," settler Aharon Tzur told Reuters news agency. "The man who helped us... is betraying us now."

Israeli legislators have voted in favor of the controversial Sharon's plan to pull Jewish settlers from Gaza.

On Monday, Prime Minister Sharon urged the Knesset to support and approve his plan. In an emotional and historical address to the Knesset, the Prime Minister acknowledged acknowledged the very difficult decision he had to take. Sharon stated: "I know the implications and impact of the Knessets decision on the lives of thousands of Israelis who have lived in the Gaza Strip for many years, who were sent there on behalf of the Governments of Israel, and who built homes there, planted trees and grew flowers, and who gave birth to sons and daughters, who have not known any other home. I am well aware of the fact that I sent them and took part in this enterprise, and many of these people are my personal friends." But he said the evacuation would "decrease hostility" and lead Israel "forward on the path to peace with the Palestinians". Later, the chairman of the opposition Labor Party, Shimon Peres, reaffirmed his support for the plan. Labor's backing was expected to carry the vote. A further bill on compensation for Jewish settlers is expected to follow. Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip since capturing them in the 1967 war. It has settled about 400,000 Jewish citizens there, among a 3.5-million-strong Palestinian population. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel does not accept this.

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