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"Meretz has never come out in support of the refusal to serve in the territories and never will," party leader MK Yossi Sarid declared last night.

Sarid expressed regret that his position - that Meretz should not take an official stand condemning refusal and those refusing to serve - was misunderstood as being support for the phenomenon.

Speaking at a meeting of the Meretz council last night Sarid said, "Even if Meretz did not re-endorse its opposition to refusal to serve in the territories, no one should make a mistake about the party's position in principle: we are unequivocally opposed [to refusal]."

He said that condemnation of the movement, however, would merely add strength to those who believe in refusal. "Does anyone believe we should tell the Meretz youth who are about to be conscripted that from now on they should no longer serve in the army? Should we tell them not to do reserve duty?" he asked. Sarid added that "Meretz should not go with the wind."

Over the past few days, party members have traded mutual accusations over the issue. Faction chair Zahava Gal-On said to Sarid, "Meretz should not go with the wind of refusal, but should not try to oppose it. We are a party that believes in ideological pluralism and should not bury our heads in the sand. Meretz must show empathy towards the refuseniks and must bring the matter up for public discussion and reveal the reasons why the officers are refusing to serve."

Staff Sergeant (Res.) Yishai Mor, 34, from Zichron Yaakov, was yesterday sentenced to 28 days' imprisonment for refusal to serve in the Gaza Strip. Also jailed yesterday was Sergio Iani, 35, director of the Center for Alternative Information in Jerusalem, who refused to serve at all in the reserves as long as the occupation continues.