Less than half Israelis support Gaza pullout - poll
Fewer than half the Israeli people back the planned Gaza pullout, the lowest level of support for more than a year, a new opinion poll published on Wednesday showed.
The survey commissioned by Channel 2 television's Mishal Ham program found that 48 percent of Israelis back the withdrawal scheduled for August, 33 percent oppose it and 19 percent are undecided.
Support for the withdrawal was the lowest recorded since the program began polls on the issue in April 2004, when support for the pullout was 62 percent.
A survey published by the Maariv daily on June 3 showed support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank had dipped to 50 percent, down from 60 percent previously.
A Tel Aviv University survey conducted at the start of May found that 56 percent of the public supported the withdrawal, down from 59 percent in April and 62 percent in February.
Israeli commentators have attributed the erosion in support to public weariness with the controversy it has generated among Jewish settlers who have vowed to resist removal from land they see as a biblical birthright.
"The public is confused by all the tumult over implementing the plan," including the persistent criticism of the withdrawal by pro-settler cabinet ministers, Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, said on television.
Zakai said Israelis also seemed increasingly to doubt whether leaving Gaza would lead to speedy peace talks given the violence in the area, such as the mortar attacks in the past two days sparked by Israel's killing of a militant Palestinian leader on Tuesday.
An official in Sharon's office told Reuters the drop in support for the pullout was "mainly because the Israeli public refuses to accept many compromises with terrorists and if the disengagement brings more terrorism they don't want it."
The official acknowledged that the diminished backing was a "difficulty" for Sharon, but said the prime minister "is determined to carry out this plan" on schedule.