Sharon claims compliance with evacuation plan


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said more than half the settlers slated for evacuation under his plan for giving up the occupied Gaza Strip had applied for compensation today, two weeks before forced evacuations.

But in a sign that resistance was far from broken, settler leaders vowed to defy a police ban and march on Gaza's main settlement bloc in a bid to disrupt the plan for "disengaging" from conflict with the Palestinians.

Last week, data from the government Disengagement Authority showed that about 750 of 1,800 families due to be evacuated from 21 Gaza settlements and from four of 120 in the West Bank had applied for state funds, effectively agreeing to leave.

"Don't be tempted to believe the disengagement will not be carried out or that it will be delayed," Mr Sharon said, referring indirectly to a campaign by settler leaders against the first evacuation of settlements on land Palestinians want for a state.

Settlers who fail to leave during a 48-hour grace period starting on August 15th could see big cuts in compensation packages totalling several hundred thousand dollars per family.

Options have dwindled for settlers to derail a plan that has the support of most Israelis and which Washington hopes will revive talks on a "road map" for Palestinian statehood.

Don't be tempted to believe the disengagement will not be carried out or that it will be delayed
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Israeli authorities today rejected a new request by settler leaders for a protest at Sderot, just outside the Gaza Strip, but police said they would permit a gathering at Ofakim, a town some 20 kilometres from the territory.

Officials had said Sderot was too dangerous as a frequent target of rockets fired by Gaza militants. They also feared that rightists armed with wire cutters could try to get through the border fence to reach the Gush Katif settlement bloc.

march could be one of the last chances for a big show of force before evacuations start. But thousands of police will be deployed across southern Israel to bar buses and cars carrying demonstrators.

The last protest was abandoned on July 21st after some 6,000 rightists spent three days camped in southern Israel in desert heat, penned in by ranks of security forces and coils of barbed wire. The mainstream settler movement has said it will use only peaceful means to prevent the withdrawal.

Palestinians welcome any withdrawal from land captured in the 1967 war, but fear the Gaza plan is a ruse to strengthen Israel's hold on the West Bank. The pullout plan affects fewer than four percent of the 240,000 settlers who live alongside 3.8 million Palestinians.

The World Court has branded all settlements illegal, but Israel disputes this. The United States has said Israel could expect to keep some settlements under any eventual peace deal.