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Sharon's Gaza Plan Suffers Setback

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office Sunday, Dec. 26, 2004. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked his Cabinet Sunday to approve a range of measures meant to ensure a smooth Palestinian presidential election, including granting Palestinians freedom of movement and allowing candidates to campaign in disputed east Jerusalem
CBS/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip suffered a setback Tuesday after a parliamentary committee failed to approve a set of guidelines for dealing with Jewish settlers in the evacuation.

In other developments:

  • Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas angered Israel by embracing the legacy of Yasser Arafat at a campaign rally, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger. Abbas has demanded an Israeli withdrawal from Jerusalem's sacred Old City and he wants to flood Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees. Israel says it will negotiate with Abbas, but the honeymoon may not last for long.
  • An audiotape that purports to be from Osama bin Laden is accusing the Palestinian administration under Abbas of siding with the United States against Muslims and called on Muslims to boycott the Jan. 9 elections. "The country is under occupation, and the state constitution is man-made ... of which Islam is innocent, and the candidate Mahmoud Abbas is an infidel agent, who was brought in after he wasted, with his companions, 10 years of the time of the Muslims in Palestine," following the peace agreement with Israel. The text and audio were posted Tuesday on a site known as a clearing house for militant Muslim statements.
  • Palestinian voters will be stamped with indelible ink and ballot boxes locked with numbered seals to prevent possible fraud in the Jan. 9 presidential election, the first in nine years, election officials said Tuesday.
  • In Gaza, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car carrying Hamas militants in the city of Khan Younis. Hamas said the men escaped unharmed. The army said the militants were involved in recent mortar attacks on nearby Jewish settlements.

    The Knesset bill, which outlines compensation for evacuated settlers will not come up for another vote for several months, though it's not clear if the summer evacuation will be postponed, reports Berger. Officials warned the delay would cause new uncertainty for Jewish settlers and could deter them from beginning preparations to move.

    The legislation also included jail sentences for settlers who refuse to leave. The Law Committee was voting on clauses that lay out the jail terms.

    The government has been encouraging the 8,800 settlers affected by the pullout to leave their homes voluntarily ahead of the withdrawal, offering cash advances while the compensation law is pending. Families are expected to receive $200,000 to $300,000, depending on the value of their homes, businesses and farmland.

    A government official said after Tuesday's vote that few families will leave early until they know how much compensation they will receive. "Each delay of the bill causes people to put off the decision to talk with us," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Sharon's plan faces stiff opposition among Jewish settlers and hard=line lawmakers, including members of his own Likud Party. He is close to bringing the moderate Labor Party into his coalition, an alliance that would stabilize the government as he pushes forward with the plan next year.

    Several Likud members were among committee members to vote against the bill Tuesday, and Azmi Bishara, an Arab-Israeli lawmaker, abstained.

    An official close to Sharon played down Tuesday's vote. He said the pullout remains on schedule and predicted Sharon will have little trouble pushing the plan through parliament once a new government is formed with Labor.

    Abbas was speaking at a Jericho soccer stadium, packed with about 4,000 supporters from his Fatah Party. He said Arafat "devoted his life to the cause of his people," and pledged to follow Arafat's policies.

    Israeli officials have been quietly backing Abbas in the election campaign, regarding him as a moderate, in contrast to their perception of Arafat as involved in violence.

    Abbas said his people would "not rest" until they have an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital. He said the Palestinian refugee problem must be resolved according to a U.N. resolution that called for return of the refugees to their original homes in Israel.

    "The occupation is our enemy," he declared.