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Israel's Netanyahu Resigns in Protest of Gaza Pullout


Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today announced his resignation from the government, just a week before Israel's withdrawal from Gaza is set to begin. The resignation, to take effect Tuesday, came as Israel's Cabinet formally ratified the first phase of the Gaza withdrawal. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Netanyahu's resignation will not affect the Gaza pullback. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.


In a dramatic gesture, Netanyahu laid a letter of resignation on the Cabinet table during the regular weekly meeting and then left the room for his office. In the letter, Netanyahu wrote, quote, "I am not prepared to be a partner to a move which ignores reality and proceeds blindly toward turning the Gaza Strip into a base for Islamic terrorism, which," he wrote, "will threaten the state."

Prime Minister Sharon said the Gaza withdrawal, which is to begin in one week, will not be affected. And despite the resignation, the Cabinet voted 17-to-5 to evacuate the first group of settlements in the Gaza Strip. The vote was held because of a prior decision requiring formal ratification of each phase of the Gaza pullback. The decision today applies to the isolated enclaves of Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Morag. Next week the Cabinet is expected to approve the evacuation of most of the other settlements in Gaza.

Hirsh Goodman of the Jaffee Center of Strategic Studies says Netanyahu has chosen this issue to challenge Sharon for the leadership of the ruling Likud Party.

Mr. HIRSH GOODMAN (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies): There's going to be a fight for the leadership of the Likud. Netanyahu's done his pose. He sees that quite a large majority of the Likud rank and file are not happy with this disengagement, that they feel they shouldn't be giving up something for nothing in return, and this is the best issue for him to fight Sharon on.

GRADSTEIN: At least for now, Sharon has widespread support in his coalition government for the Gaza pullback, including the center-left Labor Party. And just a week before it is set to begin, tensions are running high among many of the 8,500 Jewish settlers in Gaza. In the settlement of Kfar Darom, residents clashed with soldiers to came to remove two empty mobile homes. Many of these settlers have vowed to resist the upcoming evacuation, and some of them have made no preparations to leave.

Also today, a 10-year-old Israeli boy was critically wounded in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.