Cabinet Gives Go-ahead for Evacuation of Gush Katif Settlements

The cabinet yesterday approved the evacuation of all Gush Katif settlements, after having approved the evacuation of three isolated Gaza settlements - Netzarim, Morag and Kfar Darom - last week.

The measure passed by a 16-4 majority, with four Likud ministers - Limor Livnat, Yisrael Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi and Dan Naveh - opposing the move.

The cabinet did not vote on the evacuation of the three northern Gaza settlements, because only 50 families remain there and they are expected to leave by tomorrow, thereby making a vote unnecessary. If this fails to happen, the cabinet will reconvene Sunday to approve their evacuation as well.

Livnat said that she voted against evacuating Gush Katif, because it "directly contradicts the cabinet's decision in February."

According to the February decision, the evacuation was to take place in four stages, and the cabinet was to evaluate the success of each stage before voting to approve the next one.

It was only after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to this four-stage process that Livnat agreed to support the disengagement in the original June 2004 cabinet vote.

"There's a mission that needs to be completely accomplished, and there are no changes, either in the timetable or in the rules set for carrying out the mission," Sharon responded.

Sharon urged the evacuation forces to be as patient as possible with the evacuees, but lambasted the nonresidents who have infiltrated Gaza to disrupt the operation.

"When we see the acts committed by these teenagers, who did not go there of their own initiative, but were organized and sent by parties that frequently claim that they are not involved in acts of violence - anyone who wants to live in a country where things are run in such a fashion can ignore it," Sharon said.

But I don't intend to live in such a fashion. I see it as our responsibility to ensure that life in the State of Israel is run not by force or incitement, but in the accepted manner of a democratic country," he continued.

Prior to the vote, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz noted that the actual evacuation will begin tomorrow morning, while a decision on which settlements to evacuate first will be made at midnight tonight.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the Palestinian Authority has been working recently to ensure that the evacuation takes place without any violent incidents on the part of Palestinian elements and in a coordinated fashion.