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Sharon Critic Quits Cabinet over Gaza Disengagement

Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky has resigned, saying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank settlements is tragic mistake that will encourage more Palestinian violence and serve to divide Israeli society.

Natan Sharansky

Mr. Sharansky delivered his letter of resignation to Mr. Sharon Monday morning. In it, he laid out the reasons for his action. He says the Gaza withdrawal plan will only weaken the chances for a true peace with the Palestinians and says it will create a serious threat to Israeli society. In his words, "We are standing before a terrible rift in the nation and, to my regret, I sense no effort by the government to prevent it."

Prime Minister Sharon says he regrets Mr. Sharansk'ys decision to resign and says he wanted to express his appreciation for his service and says he wishes Mr. Sharansky would continue in his post.

Natan Sharansky has been a frequent critic of Sharon policy which, he has said, has been one of giving too many concessions, while getting little in return.

Natan Sharansky is the author of the influential book "The Case for Democracy," which President Bush has said articulates his belief in the need to spread democracy around the world.

Before immigrating to Israel in the mid-1980's Natan, then known as Anatoly, Sharansky was one of the best-known dissidents and political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He was jailed in 1977, charged with spying for the United States, and spent 10 years in Soviet prisons, until international pressure led the Soviets to release him, strip him of his Soviet citizenship and deport him to Israel.