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Mass protest against Sharon plan

From John Vause
CNN Tel Aviv

Security at the event was heavy, with 1,300 police guarding against possible attacks.
Security at the event was heavy, with 1,300 police guarding against possible attacks.

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Pro-settlement Israelis rally in Tel Aviv against Sharon's plan to evacuate Jewish settlements.
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TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- More than 100,000 people -- many Israeli settlers -- rallied in a Tel Aviv square in the first major demonstration against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli police estimated that 120,000 people filled Rabin Square on Sunday night, brandishing banners denouncing Sharon's so-called "disengagement" plan.

Sharon has said he will remove certain Jewish outposts to impose a unilateral boundary on a Palestinian state if peace efforts with Palestinians fail.

Settler leaders oppose the plan, saying any Israeli pullout would only encourage terrorists and militant groups.

"It will bring hundreds of casualties to the Israeli side because everyone will understand that terrorism will win in this war," said settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein.

Sharon has warned that some settlements in the occupied territories will have to go, but he hasn't said which ones or how many.

But for the protesters gathered on Sunday, one settlement is one too many.

"It doesn't matter one or 10 or 100, the problem is the principle," said settler spokesman Shaul Goldstein.

"Surrendering is not the principle of winning. If you are fighting you have to fight."

But Sharon is standing firm, saying he is committed to the U.S.-backed "road map" for peace, but he is not prepared to wait forever.

"Once we approach the time where I believe that we can move forward and we should move forward, we will have to relocate," Sharon has said, referring to the dismantling of the settlements.

While the Israeli government is trying to sell the dismantling of settlements as "relocation," the protesters on Sunday night were not buying it.

They feel betrayed because they say Sharon, the father of Israel's settlements, has sold them out, and many believe it is because he is under pressure from the United States.

The settler protest came as the PLO executive committee has been threatening to declare an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestinians are also calling on the world to pressure Israel to stop building its separation barrier along the West Bank.

The positions taken by the settlers and the Palestinians leave Sharon with little room to maneuver.

While Israel said the barrier is crucial for security, the Palestinian prime minister has called it nothing more than a land grab.

"It's discrimination. It's a real violation," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said.

"It will not keep any opportunity to implement President Bush's vision for two states. If this would continue, [the peace process is] finished."


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