Vote on Gaza pullout brought forward

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The Independent Online

Israel's ruling Likud party will hold its vote on a Gaza Strip withdrawal by late April, sooner than expected, officials said yesterday, prompting complaints that the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is rushing the referendum to stifle opposition to the plan.

Israel's ruling Likud party will hold its vote on a Gaza Strip withdrawal by late April, sooner than expected, officials said yesterday, prompting complaints that the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is rushing the referendum to stifle opposition to the plan.

The Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, has told the Yediot Ahronot daily that sending Israeli settlers to Gaza in the first place "was a strategic error", an unexpected acknowledgment that contradicts Likud's hardline ideology. About 7,500 Israelis live in 21 enclaves in Gaza, among 1.2 million Palestinians. Mr Sharon, once a driving force behind Gaza settlement, has said there was no future for Israelis in the crowded, impoverished strip.

Several Likud cabinet minister and legislators oppose the withdrawal.

In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians donated cash, jewellery, bullets and even hand-grenades to Hamas in an unprecedented fund-raiser by the Islamic militant group. Hamas announced in mosques yesterday that it needs money to fight Israel.

The group is also in the midst of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority over who will control Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal, and the collection drive was seen as a show of strength by the increasingly popular opposition group. (AP)

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