JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed Thursday to press ahead with his plan to withdraw Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip despite a rebuff by his Likud Party, which voted Wednesday against bringing the dovish Labor Party into the government.

“The prime minister is determined to continue with the disengagement plan and the diplomatic process and he will try to build a stable coalition government,” said a statement from his office.

Sharon has been negotiating in recent weeks to bring in Labor and bolster support in his Cabinet for the withdrawal plan. He had lost his parliamentary majority after he fired rightist ministers opposed to the plan and other rightist allies defected.

The Likud vote against bringing in Labor is not legally binding but could push Sharon into more intense negotiations with smaller, ultrareligious parties in an effort to widen his coalition.

“Sharon cannot ignore the wishes of his party,” said Michael Ratzon, a Likud lawmaker. However, Sharon has done so in the past. He disregarded a Likud referendum in May that rejected the Gaza pullout and managed to get the plan approved in principle by his Cabinet.

But Sharon would have difficulty pushing through the withdrawal without broader support in the Cabinet and in parliament. He can resume talks with Labor, risking a split within his own party, invite the religious parties into the government or, facing continued political paralysis, call early elections.

Polls have shown that most Israelis support the withdrawal from Gaza.

Labor demanded early elections Thursday, calling the Likud “a movement that destroys chances to bring an end to violence in the region.” The next elections are scheduled for 2006, and an early vote would put a Gaza pullout on hold.

Under Sharon’s plan, the evacuation of the 8,000 Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip and the troops protecting them would take place next year. Four settlements in the West Bank also would be removed.

As Sharon grappled with dissension in his party, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rebuffed lawmakers pushing for government reforms.

Meeting the legislators after a speech Wednesday in which he acknowledged official corruption and admitted that he and others in the Palestinian Authority had made mistakes, Arafat refused to sign decrees to speed reforms, participants said.

Azmi Shouabi, one of the legislators, said Arafat told them “that his speech was enough and there is no need for any signatures.”

Arafat has come under mounting internal pressure in recent weeks to take action against corrupt officials and overhaul the security forces to stop spreading lawlessness. But he has balked at surrendering authority, and critics said his calls Wednesday for reform lacked specific proposals for change.

In violence Thursday in the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops opened fire at a Palestinian neighborhood in Rafah, killing a 16-year-old boy and wounding another, witnesses and medical officials said.

The witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked. However, the army said troops had fired at two people who appeared to be planting a bomb near a patrol road on the border with Egypt, hitting one.

Two homemade rockets fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, and shrapnel lightly wounded a 10-year-old boy, the army and medical officials said.

In response, military checkpoints blocked traffic in two places along the north-south highway in the Gaza Strip, cutting the territory into three, the army said.


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