Netanyahu quits as Israel approves Gaza pullout
JERUSALEM: Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned in protest on Sunday as the cabinet approved the first phase of evacuations from settlements in the occupied Gaza Strip.
The resignation of Netanyahu, Sharon’s main rival in the right-wing Likud party, sent local markets reeling and showed the depth of division in the cabinet over the plan for “disengagement” from conflict with the Palestinians. But the departure of the highest-ranking minister yet to go over the pullout was too late to prevent approval for the forced evacuations of settlers, due to start after August 15.
The cabinet voted by 17 to five to back the first phase of the initiative – removal of the settlements of Kfar Darom, Netzarim and Morag, isolated enclaves where resistance is likely to be among the strongest.
Netanyahu said his resignation letter counted as a vote against and told reporters that the plan would harm Israeli security and could intensify Palestinian attacks. “I did not expect my leaving the government would stop the unilateral move,” he said. “I understand the ambition to leave Gaza. I can’t be part of a move that I believe is wrong, a move that will endanger security and divide the people.”
Markets fall: Israel’s blue chip stock index closed 5.2 percent lower on news of the departure of Netanyahu. Markets nonetheless favour the withdrawal, the first time Israel would remove settlements from land where Palestinians want a state and touted by Washington as a possible step to reviving talks on a “road map” for peace in the Middle East.
Sharon’s office said economic policies would not change as a result of Netanyahu’s resignation.
In Kfar Darom settlement, dozens of settlers scuffled with paramilitary police as troops tried to remove two caravans that had been used for monitoring Palestinian militants nearby.
Palestinians welcome the Gaza withdrawal but suspect that Sharon will use it to tighten Israel’s hold on much bigger West Bank settlements. Fewer than 4 percent of the 240,000 settlers will be affected by the plan.
In the West Bank, gunmen shot an Israeli and his son in a car. In the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian witnesses said a man had been shot dead by soldiers when he approached a building near a border area that he had abandoned during a military raid last year. reuters