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Israel's prime minister tried to cobble together a governing team to carry out his plan to withdraw from Gaza next year
A Palestinian security leader escaped unharmed Tuesday when a car bomb exploded near his convoy in Gaza City, while Israel's prime minister tried to cobble together a governing team to carry out his plan to withdraw from Gaza next year. The bomb blast rocked Gaza City after nightfall, as Moussa Arafat's convoy was leaving his headquarters. Arafat, a relative of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was not hurt, security officials said. Israel's military denied involvement. It appeared more likely that local opponents were responsible, though no one claimed the attack. Palestinian riots torpedoed Yasser Arafat's attempt to appoint his relative as head of Gaza security in July. Last year, Moussa Arafat escaped injury in an explosion in his office. He said Palestinian enemies fired a rocket at the building. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's political problems threatened to scuttle his Gaza pullout plan. With the first parliamentary vote on the withdrawal just weeks away, it appeared likely Sharon will have to rely on the moderate opposition Labor Party - an alliance that threatens to tear apart his own faction. The fissures in Sharon's Likud Party were visible during the prime minister's policy speech to parliament Monday night, in which he defended his Gaza pullout plan. In a symbolic vote, roughly a quarter of the Likud's lawmakers rejected the plan, informs the Guardian Unlimited. According to Xinhuanet, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bumpy road of his disengagement plan has restarted with a somewhat surprise defeat in the opening of the Knesset's winter session. The Knesset (parliament) voted on Monday night with 53-44 against the prime minister's state to the nation speech, in which Sharon said he would bring his disengagement plan to the Knesset for debate on Oct. 25. He also said he would bring a compensation payment distribution plan before the Knesset in the first week of November. It was the first time in the nation's history that the Knesset voted to reject a prime minister's traditional state of the nation speech at the opening of the winter session of the parliament. Sharon's speech was tailored to appeal to three constituencies, namely, the Americans, opponents inside his own Likud party and supporters of the pullout plan. For the Americans, he praised the roadmap while his top adviser Dov Weisglass said earlier the peace plan was a dead letter once the disengagement plan was approved. For opponents inside his own party, the so-called "Likud rebels," Sharon spoke about the pain he felt in sympathy with settlers who would be uprooted from their homes. About 8,000 Jews are currently living in 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, along with 1.3 million Palestinians. According to Sharon's disengagement plan, Israel will pull out all troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank posts by September 2005. And for disengagement supporters, he insisted that the Knesset has the authority to decide on the historic move, trying to put to rest demands for a national referendum. Sharon also promised to bring the plan to the Knesset on Oct. 25 "when everyone will be able to speak out on it and hear all the reasons the government has decided to initiate it." The voting result of the Knesset, however, dealt a heavy blow tothe 76-year-old prime minister. Although largely symbolic and not devastating enough to topple his administration, it tells Sharon the fact that he has to face anuphill battle in getting the Knesset to approve the plan. At present, small room was left for Sharon to maneuver for his Gaza pullout plan after he suffered several setbacks inside his ruling Likud on the issue. Sharon himself closed one door for him by rejecting a national referendum on his disengagement plan. By repeatedly saying he was opposed to early elections, Sharon shut another door. The bomb rocked Gaza City after nightfall, as Moussa Arafat's convoy was leaving his headquarters. Arafat, a cousin of the top Palestinian leader, was not hurt, security officials said. As the convoy sped off, Moussa Arafat's body guards fired submachine guns in the air. Israel's military denied involvement. It appeared more likely that local opponents were responsible, though no one claimed the attack. Palestinian riots torpedoed Yasser Arafat's attempt to appoint his relative as head of Gaza security in July. In a statement, Moussa Arafat called the bombing an assassination attempt, but he did not name suspects. Last year he escaped injury in an explosion in his office, when he said Palestinian enemies fired a rocket at the building. The Tuesday bombing was more evidence of chaos inside Gaza as the planned Israeli withdrawal approaches. Armed groups are vying with each other, and the official security forces, weakened during four years of conflict with Israel, are unable to assert authority. Moussa Arafat was one of the members of a senior Palestinian security delegation that met with Egyptian officials in Cairo for four days last month about Sharon's planned withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, reports Washington Post
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