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Israeli Cabinet Approves First Stage of Gaza Pullout as Netanyahu Resigns


The Israeli Cabinet has approved the first stage of the upcoming pullout from the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Cabinet gave a green light for the evacuation of the first three Jewish settlements in Gaza. The vote was 19 to five. Among the dissenters was Finance Minister and former Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who dropped a bombshell and resigned in protest over the Gaza pullout. He said the withdrawal is a mistake and an act of blindness.

"I cannot be part of a process that creates a base for Islamic terror that will threaten the state of Israel," Mr. Netanyahu told a news conference.

The resignation is Mr. Netanyahu's first step toward challenging Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the leadership of the hawkish Likud party once the pullout is over. Mr. Sharon infuriated the party with his Gaza withdrawal plan, which many see as a betrayal of traditional Likud ideals, such as settling the biblical land of Israel. Now, Mr. Netanyahu, who is 55, sees an opportunity to win back the party by placing himself squarely in the national camp.

Eliza Herbst, a spokeswoman for the settlers, says it's better late than never.

"We welcome Netanyahu back to his ideological roots, it's a very happy day for us," she said.

While Mr. Netanyahu's resignation stole the spotlight, it will have no effect on the Gaza pullout. The Cabinet set the wheels in motion for the evacuation of 21 Gaza settlements, along with four more in the West Bank. More than 9,000 settlers will be removed from their homes, and those who do not leave voluntarily will be removed by force. The process begins next week.

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