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Sharon death threats investigated

Israeli PM's 'disengagement plan' moves closer to reality

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Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli authorities have launched an investigation into death threats against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other officials supporting his disengagement plan from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, Jerusalem police said Tuesday.

Sharon has proposed that Israel withdraw all 21 Jewish settlements and military from Gaza and four settlements from the northern West Bank.

His proposal has angered settlers who have backed Sharon in the past, but now accuse him of betraying them.

Jerusalem Police Chief Ilan Franco said, "We are dealing with telephone threats received in the past few days. The death threats were made against the prime minister and personnel. One of the callers made threats to physically harm the prime minister."

Also Tuesday, Sharon's security Cabinet approved a package of proposals to govern the disengagement, including up-front payments to settler families who volunteer to leave.

Among the proposals approved by a 9-1 security Cabinet vote is a proposal to pay settler families up to $500,000 in compensation, with as much as one-third of that being paid to families who volunteer to go, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported.

In 1995, a Jewish fundamentalist, Yigal Amir, shot and killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Amir was angered by Rabin's backing of the Oslo Accords, which were intended to trade land for peace with the Palestinians.

On Sunday, antidisengagement protesters held a demonstration in Jerusalem, many of them carrying signs calling Sharon a dictator. Similar signs called Rabin a dictator during demonstrations in 1995.

Sharon argues a unilateral withdrawal is needed because Israel has been unable to find a Palestinian partner to negotiate a peace agreement.

Palestinians have criticized the withdrawal, calling it an attempt to circumvent negotiations called for in the so-called "road map" to Middle East peace, which is supported by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. The road map lays out steps Israel and the Palestinians must take toward ending conflict and establishing an independent state..

In August, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said, "We insist that the disengagement from Gaza must be part of the 'road map' and not an alternative to it."

Settler leaders last week urged members of the Israel Defense Forces and border police to disobey orders to remove settlers and warned that the disengagement plan could provoke a civil war.

Those remarks brought a stern rebuke Sunday from Sharon, who said he expected members of his government to publicly reject such talk and to support the disengagement plan.

On Monday, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a referendum on the disengagement plan.

Sharon has said the process had started and it is too late for a referendum. Polls show the Israeli public backs him by wide margins.

Netanyahu is currently finance minister in Sharon's government, but is also Sharon's major rival for leadership of the Likud movement. Another Cabinet minister, Ehud Olmert, criticized Netanyahu, saying his call for a referendum was an attempt to undermine the government.

Since 1967 -- when Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt during the Six-Day War -- Israel has occupied the territories and built settlements there.

There are approximately 8,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza, most of them religious nationalists who believe they have a God-given right to live in the area amid 1.2 million Palestinians.

Israel controls the entire Gaza border -- which is 38.5 miles (62 kilometers) long -- and many of the major roads in Gaza. In addition, Israeli military outposts are deployed across the narrow strip to protect the settlements.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, Sharon said, "I don't see any possibility today that a Jewish settlement can exist inside the Gaza Strip. There are 1.2 million Palestinians; it takes an enormous security effort [to protect the settlements]. It appears to me that disengagement is the right thing to do -- from all points of view, diplomatic and security -- in a place where it is clear that Jews will not be able to live."

The Israeli disengagement plan also includes the building of a barrier -- already under construction -- that Israel says will block Palestinians from attacking Israel from the West Bank.

Palestinians call the barrier a land grab, saying it leaves many Palestinians cut off from farms, schools and hospitals as it winds its way through portions of the West Bank.

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