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Israeli Vote Removes Last Obstacle to Gaza Disengagement

The Israeli parliament removed the last legislative obstacle to the implementation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, when it approved the budget, late Tuesday.

It was a critical vote. Had the budget not been approved by midnight on Thursday night, Mr. Sharon's government would have had to resign and new elections would have been scheduled. In the end, the measure passed easily, 58-36 with one abstention. Voting against the budget was seen by opponents of the controversial Sharon disengagement plan as the last chance to stop, or at least delay, the pullout from Gaza and four West Bank settlements.

Monday, the parliament rejected calls for a referendum that would have delayed the pullout and possibly brought down the government. With the budget approved, there are now no legislative obstacles remaining, but the problems for Mr. Sharon are far from over.

Settler supporter Baruch Ben Yosef says now that the parliament steps to stop the withdrawal have been exhausted, another approach will have to be used.

"Were going to make it very, very difficult for the Israeli police and army to throw Jews out of their houses and to withdraw from the settlements and hand them over to the terrorist organizations," he said.

Security officials fear increasingly desperate settlers will resort to violence, including perhaps an attempt to attack disputed holy sites in Jerusalem or even to assassinate Mr. Sharon.

Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra says he picked up a warning that extremists among the settlers might open fire on soldiers who come to evacuate them.

Mr. Ezra says an opponent of the pullout told him it would be a good idea to collect weapons from the settlers in Gush Katif settlement block in Gaza, as he put it, "because somebody can shoot and there could be casualties."

Anti-disengagement protests have already taken place, with young demonstrators burning railroad ties and blocking highways, creating massive traffic tie-ups in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. More are expected.

Disagreement over the withdrawal has fractured Mr. Sharons own Likud Party. Even members of his own cabinet voted against him in the most recent parliament balloting. In the end, he was forced to bring in an unlikely assortment of allies from the left and right, to overcome in both the vote on the referendum and the budget.