08/08/2005, 00.00
ISRAEL
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Rally in Tel Aviv against Gaza pullout

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Jewish settlers opposed to the Gaza pullout are set rally en masse in Tel Aviv next Thursday, August 11. They hope to attract up to 100,000 rightwing Jews and Jewish religious extremists. Some organisers told AsiaNews they "fear violence" by the more recalcitrant settlers and extremists opposed to leaving homes and fields in Gaza.

On August 4, a rightwing extremist who had deserted from the Israeli army killed four Israeli Arabs in a bus to protest Ariel Sharon's decision to close down settlements in Gaza. He was then lynched by a mob.

"This execution and the violence have left us profoundly bitter," one of rally organisers told AsiaNews. "But they are a sign of the tensions we are going through today."

Organisers promised the government that they would not commit any act of violence either against the government or the soldiers.

Yesterday Sharon was backed by his cabinet (17 votes against 5) in authorising the first phase of the withdrawal.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon's main rival in the Likud party, expressed his disapproval by resigning. In his view, the unilateral pullout from Gaza and some settlements in the West Bank "divides the people . . . and weakens the security of Israel".

Many, however, see Netanyahu's move as coming "too late", an attempt to put himself in the spotlight to oust Sharon should the pullout turn bloody.

Sharon's plan is expected to close down 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four on the West Bank because they are too exposed and impossible to defend.

Sources told AsiaNews that, after months of opposition, settlers in Jerusalem are largely resigned to their fate. Most of them are Jewish fundamentalists.

"We have prayed, demonstrated. If this is our fate, we'll accept it but will put passive resistance and won't move till the last movement," they said to AsiaNews.

According to a survey published by daily Yedioth Ahronoth, 55 per cent of Israelis are in favour of the pullout, but opposition has grown from 35 to 39 per cent in the last few weeks.

The government reported that 60 per cent of 1,700 families involved in the operation have accepted the transfer and have received government financial aid. This has weakened possible resistance.

The first phase in the pullout is scheduled to begin on August 15 at the end of the fasting ritual of Bet Hamikdash, which commemorates the second destruction of the Temple.

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