Israel's mainstream settler movement yesterday issued its sharpest challenge yet to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to uproot Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, endorsing...

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s mainstream settler movement yesterday issued its sharpest challenge yet to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to uproot Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, endorsing a call for settlers to resist the evacuation through civil disobedience.

The settlers apparently have lost hope of stopping the pullback by political means after Parliament yesterday endorsed a reform bill that is expected to clear the way for the moderate opposition Labor Party to join the government. That would stabilize Sharon’s coalition and guarantee strong political support for the Gaza withdrawal.

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Sharon plans to dismantle 25 Jewish settlements — all 21 in Gaza and four in the West Bank — between July and September.

The plan opened Sharon to attack from both his conservative supporters who want to keep the settlements, and the Palestinians, who suspect that Sharon, a longtime settlement advocate, wants to unilaterally remove 8,800 settlers from the Gaza Strip to preclude the larger issue of relocating more than 200,000 settlers from the West Bank.

The Palestinians want all of both Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Jerusalem, for a future, independent nation.

Although some extremist settler leaders have made much more strident statements, including personal threats against the prime minister, yesterday’s appeal was the first of its kind from the leadership of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group that is considered to broadly represent the views of the more than 225,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank and Gaza.

“The proposal to expel Jews from their homes is an immoral decision and a breach of human rights,” said the council’s chairman, Bentzi Lieberman. “We will maintain a determined stand against a decision that is, to our minds, a crime on a national and historical scale.”

Lieberman’s statement followed a communiqué issued a day earlier by a prominent regional settler leader, Pinchas Wallerstein, who called on settlers and their backers to “disobey the ‘transfer’ law en masse, even at the price of a prison term.”

Urged by senior members of Sharon’s government to repudiate the remarks, the settler leadership instead affirmed them.

Lieberman stressed the group was not advocating the use of violence. “We will not call for a civil war,” he said.

Parliament is considering legislation that would set prison terms of up to three years for physically resisting the dismantling of settlements.

Sharon, one of the chief architects of the settlement movement, kept to his custom of expressing sympathy for the settlers, even though he termed Wallerstein’s remarks “harsh.”

Ran Cohen, a lawmaker with the dovish Yahad Party, accused Wallerstein of making “a declaration of war.”

“I think this was a call for rebellion that will lead in the end to political murder,” he said.

In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an ultranationalist Jew opposed to his peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians that included his support for territorial concessions.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.