After a fiery two day debate the Israeli parliament has approved Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan. It paves the way for the removal of dozens of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.The Knesset, the lower house of parliament, voted 67 to 45 in favour, a result that had been widely expected. It is just the first of several required votes before the plan can be implemented next year. It has come at a price to Sharon, the plan has divided his coalition government and angered many in his own right-wing Likud party. The result was largely due to the support of the opposition labour party, headed by Shimon Peres. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has theatened to quit, along with three other cabinet members from Sharon’s party unless a referendum on the pullout is held. Sharon insists the partial withdrawal from the Palestinian territories will increase Israel’s security. But some among the more than eight thousand Jewish settlers set to be relocated have accused Sharon of backing down to Palestinian pressure. Thousands of protestors rallied outside the parliament, although largely peaceful, security has been stepped up around Sharon amid fears right-wing extremists may try to assassinate him.