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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zionists Order Soldiers Not to Leave West Bank

JERUSALEM -- In a stepped-up crusade against the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, rabbis of the religious Zionist movement have issued an unprecedented decree instructing Jewish soldiers to disobey orders to vacate West Bank army bases.

Their religious ruling, which proponents said could affect thousands of soldiers but especially targets a devoutly adherent segment of the military, carries no legal weight -- and it drew sweeping condemnation from political leaders and other important religious figures in Jerusalem.

But the influential rabbis lent moral support to the Jewish settler movement during a week of mounting conflict with the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which is preparing to hand over several West Bank cities to the Palestinians by the end of the year.

The 15 rabbis of the national religious parties and the Hesder religious schools gathered at the Jerusalem home of former chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira. They issued the edict, that Jewish law forbids soldiers and civilians from participating in the evacuation of any army base in the West Bank, after hours of debate.

"There is a Torah prohibition to removing [army] camps and giving them to the Gentiles,'' said Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Hesder Yeshiva movement. "It is life-endangering and also a danger to the existence of the state of Israel.''

In response, Israeli President Ezer Weizman angrily canceled a scheduled meeting with the rabbis and Rabin called their ruling illegal. "It is unbelievable in Israel, a democracy, that some small number of rabbis should take upon themselves the right to act against the law, to call on soldiers to refuse a legitimate order. We will not accept it, we will not allow it,'' Rabin said.

Arafat's Palestinian Authority took control of the Gaza Strip and Jericho in May 1994. Palestinian and Israeli leaders have said they are close to an agreement for implementing the next stage of the accord.

The rabbis who issued Wednesday's decree -- the religious leaders of the settler movement -- had declared the peace accord void in May 1994, and issued another decree that Jewish law prohibits the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank.

But this is the first time they have addressed the issue of the army.

The army is such an emotional, unifying issue for most Israelis that even opposition Likud Party Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, an opponent of the peace accord, criticized the rabbis' ruling.

Israel's Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau said the ruling could lead to anarchy, while Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper published a poll on Thursday showing 77 percent of Israelis believed the rabbis had erred in issuing the order.