Sharon made a defense of his disengagement plan

Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon made an impassioned defense of his disengagement plan at the start of a crunch debate in Parliament Monday as 16 Palestinians were killed by troops in the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Gaza Strip.

"I have decided to go right through to the end with this separation. I am convinced this will strengthen Israel," Sharon told MPs at the start of a two-day debate that will culminate in a vote on Tuesday evening.

"It will advance us on the road to peace with our neighbors, the Palestinians," he added in his speech to Parliament.

Under the plan, all 8,000 Jewish settlers will leave Gaza next year. Several hundred residents of four small Jewish enclaves in the northern &to=http:// ' target=_blank>West Bank will also be removed, wrote the Daily Star.

Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved a bill to compensate Jewish settlers who would be relocated. Penalties are to be assessed against any settlers who resist evacuation.

Hours before Mr. Sharon's address, Israeli tanks, armored bulldozers and troops raided a Gaza refugee camp at Khan Younis, killing Palestinians and wounding more than 70 others.

Israel says mortar fire on a nearby Israeli settlement provoked the latest army assault, says Voice of America.

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