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KWAME HOLMAN: The vote by Likud Party members was non-binding, but the overwhelming rejection of Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip was stunning. Those voting made up only about 2 percent of the Israeli population, but they rejected Sharon’s plan by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.
Most of the ballots were cast after a Palestinian attack near one of the settlements Sharon wants to evacuate. Gunmen killed a 34-year-old pregnant settler and her four daughters, aged two to eleven. Israeli soldiers later shot and killed the attackers. Several Palestinian groups claimed joint responsibility, saying they were retaliating for the recent Israeli killings of two leaders of Hamas. Just hours later, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired on a radio station affiliated with Hamas, causing minor injuries. And there was another Israeli strike in Nablus that killed four Palestinian militants.
Today Sharon said he accepted the poll results, but would not resign. He pledged, however, to revise his plan.
ARIEL SHARON (Translated): I intend to consult with cabinet ministers, members of the Likud caucus, and other parties in order to weigh the implications and the steps we intend to take.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the prime minister won a hastily called vote of no-confidence in the Israeli parliament this afternoon. Sharon unveiled his original disengagement plan at the White House last month, and gained full approval for it from President Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I commend Prime Minister Sharon for his bold and courageous decision to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. I call on the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors to match that boldness and that courage. All of us must show the wisdom and the will to bring lasting peace to that region.
KWAME HOLMAN: Under that plan, Israeli settlers would leave Gaza and parts of the West Bank. But in return, other West Bank settlement locations would be expanded. At the State Department today, a spokesman said the vote against withdrawal from Gaza was a setback for peace efforts in the region. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds meetings tomorrow on the Middle East with fellow diplomats from the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.