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Israeli Hard-Liners Denounce Gaza Disengagement Plan  - 2004-09-10

A large number of prominent Israeli hard-liners are describing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle Jewish settlements in Gaza and a small portion of the West Bank as a "crime against humanity." And, as tensions increase over the plan, some are saying the country risks civil war.

One-hundred-eighty-five Israeli hard-liners have signed a petition denouncing Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan as "illegal," and a "crime against humanity." The petition urges soldiers to refuse orders to remove settlers.

Mr. Sharon's plan calls for dismantling all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small ones in the northern part of the West Bank. The prime minister has repeatedly said the move is vital for Israel's security. But, many members of Mr. Sharon's own Likud Party disagree.

Yossi Ben Aharon, a former senior government official, is one of those who signed the petition. He told Israel Radio the move will not bolster security, and will only hurt Israelis living in the Gaza settlement block, known in Hebrew as Gush Katif.

"For the life of me, I cannot find one justifiable reason for that so-called disengagement from Gaza," Mr. Ben Aharon said. "What it is, in effect, is the uprooting of 8,000 innocent people, who have lived for 20, 30 years in the Gush Katif."

Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper reported Friday that settler leaders have told Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz the settlers would use force to resist evacuation, and warned the country could be on the brink of civil war.

Justice Minister Tommy Lapid has responded with outrage, saying that any call for such forceful opposition is, "an incitement to civil war" that threatens the well-being of the state.

Despite vehement opposition to the disengagement plan by settlers and hard-liners, recent opinion polls have shown that the majority of Israelis support the plan.

In an interview published in Friday's Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Sharon says he understands the concerns of the settlers who will be uprooted, but he says the disengagement plan will be implemented anyway.