Sharon Pushes Settlement Removal From Gaza Strip

Times Staff Writer

Smarting from a symbolic loss in Israel's parliament, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today explored ways to widen his tottery coalition while pushing a controversial plan to remove Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip.

Sharon and representatives were holding or planning talks with leaders of opposition factions, including the left-leaning Labor Party, in hopes of expanding the governing coalition that lacks a parliamentary majority.

Sharon sent Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to meet with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, an opposition religious party.

The prime minister may not have to broaden his government before Oct. 25, when he plans to present his plan for evacuating the Gaza Strip to the parliament, or Knesset.

Despite fierce resistance to the pullout among hard-liners within his conservative Likud Party and among rightist religious factions, the plan is expected to gain Knesset approval with help from Labor and leftist parties.

Sharon suffered a setback Monday when the Knesset inaugurated its autumn session by voting not to accept the terms of his opening speech, which included an overview of the Gaza pullout. The 53-44 vote carried no legal weight, however.

Opponents of the evacuation plan, which calls for removing all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four others in the West Bank by the end of next year, are urging a nationwide referendum on the proposal. Sharon rejected that idea again today, according to Israeli media.

Some opposition politicians have called for early elections to pick a new government.

Nonetheless, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said he expects Sharon to stick with plans to get the evacuation approved by the Knesset.

"The question which is currently on the agenda is whether we should enter a stupid months-long elections campaign now, only to end up in the very same situation we are in today, or whether we should create the waves which would allow the prime minister to implement the historic decisions he is leading," Olmert told Israel Radio.

Sharon, who suspended the search for new coalition partners when the Knesset went on recess in August, is expected to resume talks with Labor, though rebellious Likud members have tried to foil such an alliance.

Also today, a car bomb exploded outside a Palestinian police headquarters in Gaza City as a convoy was carrying Moussa Arafat, the top security official in the Gaza Strip and cousin of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Moussa Arafat was not injured in the blast, which appeared aimed against him. He was appointed as head of security in July, a move that angered Palestinian critics who saw him as a symbol of corruption and stoked factional tensions.

In other developments:

Israel's top military officer told a Knesset committee that the fatal bombings on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula last week likely were in planning for 18 months to two years and financed by extremist Sunni Muslim groups, Israeli media reported.

The army's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon repeated previous Israeli assertions that the attacks against a Hilton hotel in the border town of Taba and two other Sinai sites popular among Israeli tourists were probably the work of Al Qaeda.

Yaalon said the bombings, which killed about three dozen people, were unlike past bombings by Palestinian militants from the West Bank, the media reports said.

United Nations officials said an 11-year-old girl was struck in the chest by gunfire from an Israeli military position as she sat in a U.N. classroom in the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza.

The girl, Ghadeer Jaber Mokheimer, was hospitalized and in stable condition, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. The agency said two bullets were fired from an Israeli position near a bloc of Jewish settlements and that one of them hit Ghadeer.

The agency said bullets fired by Israeli soldiers have hit students at U.N. schools in southern Gaza four other times since March, 2003.

Israeli military sources said troops fired at a spot from which Palestinian militants had launched mortars at the army post and nearby Israeli communities. The sources said the army was investigating the reports that a civilian was wounded.

The Israeli army said it erred two weeks ago when it said that a videotape shot from an unmanned drone over the Gaza Strip showed militants putting a Kassam rocket into a United Nations ambulance. U.N. officials denied the charge, saying the object was most likely a stretcher. The military conceded that it was not a rocket.

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World