Facing far-right threats to his coalition and warnings of civil strife, Sharon opened a stormy, two-day debate widely expected to end in approval for Israel's first evacuation of settlers from occupied Palestinian land.

"This is a fateful hour for Israel. We are facing an unprecedented decision," Sharon said to loud heckling from ultra-nationalist lawmakers opposed to his plan, which he promotes as "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians.

"You are tearing the nation apart. Go home. You must not expel Jews," Uri Ariel of the ultra-nationalist National Union party shouted at Sharon before being ejected from the chamber.

Condemnation and support

Sharon, once the settlers' champion but now the target of their ire, said pulling out of tiny Gaza by the end of next year would make Israel easier to defend and allow it to seal its grip on larger West Bank settlements. The plan has US approval. 

Settlers have protested against
Sharon's plan

"I learned from experience that one cannot be victorious by
the sword alone," he said.

Police ringed the Knesset building in the face of anonymous threats to assassinate Sharon and rallies by Israelis for and against his plan, which calls for removing all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank.

Outside the Israeli parliament, several thousand demonstrators rallied in support of Sharon. Settlers and their supporters planned protests at the site on Tuesday.

"We don't have to be in Gaza Strip, it's not ours, it's not even a land of our fathers or mothers. We have nothing to do there," one demonstrator said.

Labour backing

Polls show most Israelis back "disengagement" and it is likely to pass with 67 of the 120 votes in the Knesset on Tuesday, but only with support of left-wing opposition members to offset a mutiny by rightists in Sharon's Likud party.

In an interview with Aljazeera, Israeli Labour MP Afram Sinier said his party backed the plan.

"We do support the disengagement plan from Gaza.The matter is not only the disengagement per se, but putting an end to the war with the Palestinians through negotiations," he said.

"We don't have to be in the Gaza Strip, it's not ours, it's not even a land of our fathers or mothers" 

Israeli demonstrator

"The implementation of the disengagement plan should be in conformity with the requirements of the Palestinian Authority.

"In this respect, Gaza should be handed over to a responsible Palestinian government in order to prevent a take-over by extremist or fundamentalist groups such as Hamas, Jihad or Hizb Allah."

Palestinians believe Sharon's plan will kill off deadlocked peace efforts and leave them only Gaza and scattered parts of the West Bank for a state.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law.