Sharon warns Jewish rebels that violence threatens state of Israel

ARIEL Sharon yesterday issued a stern warning to Jewish settlers opposed to his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, telling them that the use of violence against security forces threatens the very existence of Israel.

The country's prime minister spoke as a young Israeli soldier who disobeyed orders to take part in the demolition of deserted buildings in a Jewish settlement in Gaza was sentenced to 56 days in jail.

During the operation in the Shirat Hayam settlement, young settlers pushed soldiers, cursed and blocked bulldozers - giving a taste of what could lie ahead during the withdrawal, set to begin in August.

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Mr Sharon said settlers who use violence are a minority among the 9,000 Israelis due to be evacuated from their homes in the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank settlements.

"I especially warn against attempts - by a small lawless, minority ... using violence against the army and other security forces," he said.

Mr Sharon added: "We all have to remember that the calls to refuse and to disrupt life in Israel endanger the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state."

The premier also condemned calls for soldiers to disobey orders and refuse to carry out the evacuations.

However, a group of settler rabbis repeated their call for soldiers to defy orders to evacuate settlers, issuing a statement calling the Gaza withdrawal "immoral".

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