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Jewish Settlers Join Forces with Sharon's Opponents to Block Gaza Pullout - 2004-04-14

Israeli cabinet ministers opposed to the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip have joined forces with Jewish settlers to block the move. The opponents include two members of Mr. Sharon's Likud Party, which is set to vote on the plan in a referendum early next month.

Jewish settlers have begun lobbying members of the Likud to oppose Mr. Sharon's unilateral plan to get Israel out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

And Jewish settler activist Susan Wolf says that the opposition campaign is getting some inside help. She says that cabinet ministers Uzi Landau and Natan Sharansky, both Likud members, are advising the Jewish settlers how to win more supporters.

These ministers, she says, hold to the view that Mr. Sharon's plan must be stopped because it will bring more risks for Israel's security.

?We are all working together to assist the Likud in their plan to get a very strong message to Sharon that we cannot give a prize to terror,? Ms. Wolf said.

While the vast majority of those in the Jewish settler movement support that view, Mr. Sharon has managed to win over some key supporters.

The prime minister says under his disengagement plan he will add at least five Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank within Israel's national boundaries.

They include Maale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem, whose mayor, Benny Kashriel, came out in support of the prime minister.

?I think that if he will get an agreement with the American government that the Maale Adumim bloc, the Ariel bloc, and the Etzion bloc will be a legal part of Israel it is a good agreement that he will withdraw from the Gaza Strip,? he said.

Mr. Sharon, too, argues that the benefits of his plan outweigh its costs.

But observers say the prime minister's supporters will have to win over more members of his Likud Party in order to ensure victory in next month's referendum.