JERUSALEM - Thirty-four Israeli army reserve officers living in Jewish settlements in the West Bank urged soldiers Thursday to disobey orders to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip.
In a petition published by the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot, the officers, including four battalion commanders, claimed that the planned dismantlement of the Gaza Strip's 21 settlements was "illegal".
"We think that any order to carry out disengagement is a patently illegal order... Such an order must not be carried out by a soldier, according to the state laws and the IDF (army) code," the officers told their commander in the letter.
The estimated 8,000 settlers living in the Gaza Strip are scheduled to be evacuated in June this year, as part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally "disengage" from the Palestinian territory.
One of the petition's signatories, reserve lieutenant colonel Yitzhak Shadni, told army radio that Sharon "does not enjoy the necessary popular legitimacy" to implement his plan.
"Arik (Sharon) once was our hero, we gave him our votes but he did exactly the contrary of what he promised," the officer said.
The petition comes a day after the country's attorney general ordered an investigation against two settler activists who called on soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate the Gaza settlements.
One of the activists is Noam Livnat - the brother of Education Minister Limor Livnat - who launched a movement aimed at gathering the signatures of 10,000 soldiers pledging to refuse such orders.
On Wednesday, Sharon hit back at the movement against dismantling the settlements.
"Those who are calling for orders to be disobeyed are destroying the thing that is most sacred to Israeli society. It is a crime against all of us," he told public radio.
Also on Wednesday, an off-duty soldier who had urged his colleagues to disobey an order to remove settlers from a Jewish settlement outpost in the northern West Bank was slapped with a four-week prison sentence.