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Sharon Set to Dismiss 2 Cabinet Ministers

June 04, 2004|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided Thursday to fire two hard-line government ministers, officials said, a move that would give him a slim Cabinet majority for his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon summoned the two ministers of the far-right National Union Party, Avigdor Lieberman and Benny Elon, for a meeting today to deliver the dismissal notices. They would take effect in 48 hours, before the crucial Cabinet session Sunday.

Cabinet minister Tzipi Livni said that the prime minister rejected her latest proposal for a compromise late Thursday but that she was still trying. Previously, negotiations to avert dismissals and resignations continued until just before they were to take effect, and crises often were averted at the eleventh hour.

Sharon pledged Wednesday to bring his pullout plan to a Cabinet vote on Sunday, even though he had no guarantee it would pass.

Twelve Cabinet ministers oppose the plan and 11 support it. By firing Lieberman and Elon, Sharon would create a one-vote majority. Another pro-settler faction, the National Religious Party, has threatened to quit if Sharon dismisses the National Union ministers.

National Religious Party leader Effi Eitam called Sharon's concept of removing settlements "a terrible, immoral, bitter thing."

All day Thursday, Cabinet ministers tried to work out a compromise to prevent a coalition crisis, but Sharon was adamant. "I intend to honor my commitment to bring the decision to the Cabinet this Sunday," he said.

Sharon's proposal calls for a pullout from all of Gaza and four small settlements in the West Bank over four stages by the end of next year. Sharon, who had been the main mover behind settlement construction, has said there is no future for 7,500 Jewish settlers who reside among 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Sharon does not hide his underlying goal -- to trade the 21 small Gaza settlements for control of the main settlement blocs in the West Bank, where most of the 230,000 Jewish settlers live.

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