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Sharon Presents Gaza Withdrawal Plan to Likud Lawmakers - 2004-08-31


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed a detailed, accelerated timetable to withdraw all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip at the beginning of next year - months earlier than originally planned.

Mr. Sharon presented the timetable to lawmakers of his Likud party on Tuesday.

At the beginning of the session, his message was clear. He said the disengagement plan will be implemented - period.

The prime minister then outlined details.

Mr. Sharon told lawmakers he would submit a draft bill for carrying out the withdrawal to the security cabinet by September 14 and then to the full cabinet by September 26. Mr. Sharon estimated the bill would go to parliament for a first round of voting by early November.

Mr. Sharon wants to complete legislative and security preparations by the end of the year, meaning the actual withdrawal could begin right afterward.

Initially, Mr. Sharon's plan called for a four-stage withdrawal of all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four small ones from the West Bank to take place in the second half of 2005. Mr. Sharon has said the disengagement is vital for Israel's security. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is one of Mr. Sharon main political rivals within Likud, said he's not opposed to the withdrawal plan, but he wants a slower and more measured approach. Mr. Netanyahu said the withdrawal should be gradual to avoid chaos and the perception that Israel is giving in to terrorism and fleeing from attacks by Palestinian militants.

Mr. Sharon is expected to face stiffer opposition from some other Likud members, who see any withdrawal from Palestinian areas as betrayal.

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