The Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, voiced fears today that extremist opponents of the plan to pull troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip next month will try to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.  

Mr Katsav said he feared extremists would attack Mr Sharon in the belief that it was necessary to prevent the destruction of the state of Israel as a result of the Gaza withdrawal.

Mr Sharon has been the subject of numerous threats from extremists in recent months, including one threat to dig up the corpse of his late wife.  

In a sign of the growing unease over the highly charged political climate in Israel, all cabinet ministers are being fitted with flak-jackets which they will wear during public appearances.

Meanwhile, Israeli police have arrested a right-wing extremist suspected of taking part in an attempt to lynch a Palestinian teenager in the Gaza Strip last week.

Police said the suspect was 18 years old, and that two 16-year-olds were also wanted in connection with the attack on 16-year-old Hilal Ziad al-Majaida.

Majaida was left critically ill after being stoned by a mob of young Israeli ultra-nationalists last Wednesday in a village in the Gush Katif settlement in southern Gaza.  

He was wounded during a series of clashes which came after Israeli youths trying to block next month's withdrawal had taken over an empty Palestinian house in the village.  

Footage of the attack was broadcast on Israeli television, prompting a wave of outrage and helping to boost support for the pullout plan.