KNESSET DEBATES EVACUATED SETTLER DAMAGES BILL, DRAGS IT THROUGH FIRST READING

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TEL AVIV, November 3 (RIA Novosti) - The Knesset today approved, in an initial reading, a bill on evacuating a part of Jewish settlements from Palestine and on settlers' readjustment grants. The bill adds practical content to the unilateral demarcation concept. It offers a legal and financial basis to key premises of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's programme the Israeli parliament passed last week.

The bill will acquire legal force if it gets through parliament in all three readings. Today, it got through in a fairly close vote-64 "yes" against 44 no's, nine abstaining.

The bill divides the 25 doomed settlements in four groups, and authorises the Prime Minister to appoint an evacuation deadline for each group after the Cabinet makes a relevant resolution. 21 settlements will vanish from the Gaza strip and four from the West Bank before next year's end, as expected.

Next, the bill appoints the payment procedure and amount of settlers' readjustment grants. An average makes roughly US$300,000 per household, with rises for families who choose to move to priority development areas-the Negev desert in the Israeli south, and Galilee in the country's north.

The bill offers not only a carrot but a big stick to demarcation opponents-those who hamper resettlement may land in jail for up to three years.

The Cabinet has earmarked 2.2 billion shekels, or $494 million, to finance demarcation efforts next year. The national budget deficit will accordingly increase by 0.4 per cent. Resettlement expenditures may eventually bloat to five billion shekels, the national top says apprehensively.

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