Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said overnight that he would not resign despite the failure of his own Likud party to back his disengagement plan. He pledged to press ahead in finding a path to peace.
Opinion polls during the last week had indicated that Sharon's own party was not likely to back his plan, which calls for the uprooting of some 8,000 Israelis from their homes in the Gaza Strip in a unilateral move.
Only about 41 percent of the Likud members turned out to vote on Sunday, delivering a stunning blow to the prime minister's disengagement plan. More than 59 percent of them voted against the plan, while only 39 percent voted in favor of it.
Opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres proposed that Sharon dissolve the government and go for early elections.
Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, leader of the Shinui party, which is currently part of Sharon's coalition government and a supporter of Sharon's disengagement plan, said that it was not possible for the small number of Likud voters to rule the country.
According to general opinion polls, Sharon has widespread support throughout the country for his disengagement plan. Analysts have suggested that he may take the disengagement to a countrywide general referendum.
Minister Uzi Landau, who led the campaign inside the Likud against the prime minister's plan, called on Sharon to respect the referendum results.
Sharon said he received the results with "great sadness" but respected them. He also rejected the suggestion that he would resign as a result of the referendum.
"The days ahead will not be easy. We will have to make difficult decisions," Sharon said in statement after the results of referendum were released.
"In the next few days, I will consult with the ministers, the Likud faction and the factions of the coalition, and will thoroughly examine the implications and steps we intend to take," he said.
Sharon did not say what he might do, but analysts said he may reveal more of his plan when he opens the Knesset's summer session on Monday afternoon. He did say he would continue to lead the country.
"One thing is clear to me: the people of Israel did not elect me to sit idly by for four years. I was elected to find the path that will lead this people to the tranquility, security and peace they so deserve. I intend to continue leading the State of Israel to the best of my understanding, conscience and public duty," he said.
Sharon also thanked President Bush for his support for the plan. Sharon took his plan to Washington two-and-a-half weeks ago and received strong backing for it from the president, which angered Palestinians and much of the Arab world.
The White House issued a statement following the results, saying the U.S. view had not changed.
"Our own view has not changed: The President welcomed Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw settlements from Gaza and a part of the West Bank as a courageous and important step toward peace," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
He said that Washington would be consulting with Sharon and the Israeli government "about how to move forward."
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia called on Sharon on Monday to scrap the disengagement plan and return to negotiations, Israel Radio reported.
Voting was marred on Sunday by a terrorist shooting attack along the Kissufim road, the main approach road to the Gush Katif area in the Gaza Strip.
Two gunmen opened fire on passing vehicles, causing one car to swerve off the road. The terrorists then shot the occupants at close range and the riddled the car with bullets killing Tali Hatuel, 34, who was eight months pregnant, and her four daughters Hila, 11, Hadar, 9, Roni, 7, and Merav, 2.
Tali had been on her way to join her husband in Ashkelon, where they were going to campaign against the disengagement plan. Three other Israelis were also wounded in the attack, before soldiers killed the two terrorists.
Since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, 10 civilians and five soldiers have been killed along the Kissufim road.
In a limited response to the terror attack, Israeli troops demolished several buildings in the area and the Air Force targeted a Hamas broadcasting station in Gaza city.
According to the army, the station broadcast interviews with "incited to terror" as well as broadcasting reports on the movements of Israeli forces and warning terrorists of Israeli military operations.
In the West Bank, four Palestinian militants were killed in when Israeli helicopters fired missile into their vehicle. The four wanted men, part of Palestinian Authority
Chairman Yasser Arafat's Tanzim Fatah faction was accused of being responsible for numerous terrorist attacks, security sources said.