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Settlers March Against Gaza Plan

Guest Lottie

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Several thousands of Jewish settlers from the occupied Palestinian territories have held simultaneous protest-rallies across Israel.

They were demonstrating against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to uproot some 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and also parts of the West Bank.

About 3,000 settlers and their backers marched through Jerusalem, although the organisers hoped for a higher turnout.

Mr Sharon wants all Gaza settlers and all troops to leave early in 2005.

It would be a sin to evacuate [the settlements]. It's forbidden and soldiers must say just that to their commanders

Rabbi Avraham Shapira

Speaking at the start of a new session of parliament earlier this week, Mr Sharon said the disengagement plan would be debated on 25 October.

Israel has occupied Gaza, home to 1.3 million Palestinians, since 1967.

Rabbi's plea

Settlers make up a minority in Israel, but on Thursday they made their voice heard, correspondents say.

The protest rallies - which were planned in 100 different venues - marked the culmination of a week-long campaign against Mr Sharon's plan.

Many of the demonstrators carried orange flags which have become the symbolic colour of their campaign.

In Jerusalem, protesters gathered outside Mr Sharon's official residence and erected a giant screen which beamed messages of support for the settlers' campaign.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says that while the demonstrations have been widespread, the turnout has been lower than the organisers had predicted.

Earlier this week, an influential rabbi called on Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements.

"It would be a sin to evacuate [the settlements]. It's forbidden and soldiers must say just that to their commanders," Rabbi Avraham Shapira told Israel's Basheva religious newspaper.

"It is like desecrating the Sabbath and eating non-kosher food," he said.


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