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Israel Proceeds With Gaza Pullout Despite Netanyahu Resignation

Asaf Shariv, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said on the radio a day after Netanyahu suddenly walked out of a Cabinet meeting, “We are back to our routine. … The disengagement will begin as planned, exactly a week from today.”

Sharon appointed vice prime minister Ehud Olmert as acting finance minister.

The Security Cabinet began discussing an agreement to have foreign officers staff the Egypt-Gaza crossing at Rafah, which would give the region’s Palestinians essentially open access to the outside world for the first time in years.

U.S. envoy James Wolfensohn favors the use of foreign inspectors and has pressed Israel to come to a decision before the withdrawal begins next week. He has said the long-contained Gazans need the ability to travel freely in order to revive their economy, one of the main objectives of the pullout.

The Cabinet also discussed a European Union offer to supply the Palestinian Authority with customs officers and training in an effort to strengthen security at the border.

Israeli troops currently patrol the narrow strip between Gaza and Egypt and serve as customs inspectors at the Rafah crossing. Some Israelis — now including Netanyahu — fear that ceding control of the border crossings and ports will allow militants to sneak in weapons and terrorists.

Netanyahu said he worries Gaza will become a “base of Islamic terror” and a significant threat to Israel as a result of the pullout. His defection from the plan is a challenge to Sharon’s control of the ruling Likud Party and may lead to new elections.

Current polls, however, put Netanyahu at odds with both Sharon and the majority of Israelis. About 55 percent of Israelis support the pullout, and 47 percent believe Netanyahu’s political ambition, not concerns for national security, prompted his resignation.

The pullout, scheduled to begin Aug. 15, will remove about 9,000 settlers from 21 Gaza settlements and several hundred settlers from four settlements in the West Bank. So far, 1,018 of the 1,700 affected families have applied for compensation, while the remainder refuse to leave.

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