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Evacuation Compensation Bill Passed in Israeli Parliament

The Israeli Knesset, or parliament, approved Wednesday evening the Evacuation Compensation bill, a key legislation underlying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

The bill's third and final reading was approved with a comfortable 59 to 40 majority, with five Knesset members abstaining.

According to the bill, which was regarded as one of the most controversial laws in the country's history, each settler family can expect to receive US$200,000 to 500,000 in compensation, depending on the size of assets.

The total compensation will cost roughly US$1 billion, nearly 50 percent higher than the government's original estimate.

The vote was preceded by a marathon voting that included a long list of amendments to the bill. But Israeli lawmakers rejected an amendment to the bill submitted by the Justice Committee which would delay the publication of the bill and the issuing of evacuation orders.

This would have allowed referendum supporters to win time to muster the Knesset majority needed for passing a law on a referendum.

The Knesset was expected to vote on other amendments to the bill that wanted to link the disengagement plan to a referendum, but there was little chance of their approval.

Hours before the voting, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said his Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party would vote against the 2005 State Budget and would not join the coalition government.

The budget would prove to be even more crucial for the success of Sharon's disengagement proposal and for the survival of his government, which by law will be brought down if the budget fails to pass the Knesset by March 31.

Last week, the Knesset Finance Committee voted to raise the amount of compensation to evacuees in the face of arguments that some parts of compensation were unrealistic, and in order to make the evacuation process pass more smoothly.

Meanwhile, Palestinian militant groups on Wednesday accused Israel of breaching its cease-fire commitment and vowed to respond to the killing of two al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members, putting the fragile calmness in danger.

The brigades, the armed wing of the mainstream Fatah movement, said it would respond "directly and soon to any Israeli breaking of the calmness" without consulting with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

Stressing that "the Israelis' blood will not be sanctified more than the Palestinians' blood," Abu Mohammed, the brigades' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, called on Palestinian factions to coordinate response to Israel's breaking of the calmness.

A Hamas spokesman, Musher al-Masri, also told reporters that the Palestinians would respond to the Israeli violations and attacks, which he termed as a "legal right" that does not require a permission from the PNA.

Two Aqsa militants, Isam Hamza and Mahyoob al-Kenna, were shot dead Tuesday night by Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Witnesses said the two armed men were killed by Israeli troops without provocation while guarding an abandoned Palestinian house near a Jewish settlement.

However, the Israeli army said the two, armed with rifles, were killed while approaching a West Bank settlement near Nablus.

The incident came several days after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won militant groups' pledge to abide by a de facto cease-fire while weighing whether to accept a formal truce declared by Abbas and Sharon at a landmark Feb. 8 summit.

The militants also agreed to consult with the PNA before taking any action against Israeli aggressions.

(Xinhua News Agency February 17, 2005)

Israel, Palestinians Strike Truce Deal
Israel, Palestinians to Announce Ceasefire
New Gaza Violence Strains De Facto Truce
Israelis Rally to Protest Disengagement
Settler Killed in Gaza Ambush
Israeli Parliament OKs New Coalition Gov't
Sharon, Peres Reach Deal on New Government
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