Sharon plans withdrawal referendum

Likud members to vote on action in Gaza Strip

March 31, 2004|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that he would hold a binding referendum in his Likud Party on his plan to withdraw settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip.

Sharon's announcement at a party convention was meant to deflect criticism of the plan from hard-line Likud members who demanded a party vote.

Commentators said Sharon's move was based on a calculation that he would be able to muster a majority of Likud members to support the plan.

Likud has traditionally opposed a withdrawal from land seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, but opinion polls have shown that party members are ready to support an evacuation of the isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The vote among the 200,000 Likud members could be held in May, after Sharon returns from a planned meeting with President Bush in Washington on April 14.

At the Likud convention in Tel Aviv, Sharon said he had decided to agree to the vote.

The result "will be binding on all members of Likud, myself foremost," Sharon announced to a chorus of cheers and boos.

Early today, Israeli soldiers destroyed a small unauthorized settlement outpost called Hazon David near Hebron in the southern West Bank, the Associated Press reported, quoting Israel Radio.

The outpost was made up of a tent and a shack used as a synagogue.

In his remarks, Sharon did not give details of the withdrawal plan.

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