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Sharon Pushes Gaza Withdrawal Plan, Threatens to Fire Opposing Ministers - 2004-05-30


Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, threatened Sunday to fire some of his cabinet ministers in order to win a majority for his disengagement plan from Palestinian areas. Mr. Sharon issued the warning after presenting a revised version of his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Mr. Sharon opened Sunday's cabinet debate with a tough message to those ministers who are refusing to grant him the majority he needs to approve his disengagement plan.

He says that he is determined to take what he call unprecedented political steps, including changing the make-up of the government in order to have the plan passed.

Mr. Sharon's warning came after four ministers of his own Likud Party, including finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated earlier in the week they are not in favor of the prime minister's proposals.

Mr. Netanyahu and the other three ministers say they cannot give their support after the Likud faction overwhelming rejected Mr. Sharon's vision at a referendum of the party, earlier this month.

Their opposition has left the prime minister with only 11 ministers in support of his plan, while the remaining 12 oppose the initiative.

Mr. Netanyahu's objections to the plan drew public criticism from Mr. Sharon who accused the finance minister of putting his ambitions to take over the leadership ahead of the wishes of the majority of Israelis.

Mr. Netanyahu rejected the claims, saying it is Mr. Sharon who is refusing to compromise over the issue and maintain unity within the Government.

The finance minister says that Mr. Sharon has not altered any of the essential elements of his original plan to withdraw troops and dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Mr. Sharon's modified plan presented to the cabinet on Sunday proposes the disengagement be carried out in four stages and each phase would have to be approved by the cabinet.

The prime minister is expected to ask his cabinet to vote on the issue, early next month.

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