Sharon gets tough with Israel's Gaza Strip settlers

ARIEL Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, yesterday issued a stern warning to Jewish settlers who try to thwart his planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, saying the government would use all its might to secure the pull-out.

It was the first time Mr Sharon has said he will deal harshly with Israeli settlers who resist the move, which is set to begin in July.

In new violence, gunfire erupted at an Israeli-Gaza checkpoint, leaving two armed Palestinians dead. Earlier, two Palestinian rockets landed in an Israeli army base in southern Israel, wounding 12 soldiers, the army said.

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Mr Sharon won an important political victory yesterday when the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party (UTJ) decided to join his reshuffled government, giving him a parliamentary majority for the first time since the summer.

With UTJ, moderate Labour and his own Likud Party, Mr Sharon’s new team will have 66 of the 120 seats in parliament. His hard-line coalition fell apart over opposition to his plan to pull out of Gaza and part of the West Bank.