Peres told Israel's Army Radio on Tuesday he would meet US Vice-President Dick Cheney and other administration officials, and ask them to assist with the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.

 

Peres refused to say how much money Israel was seeking, but said the money would also be used to develop the Galil and Negev desert.

 

Israel wants to relocate Jewish settlers earmarked for evacuation to these areas, and is offering extra compensation to those who agree to move to the peripheral regions.

 

"The essence of the issue is to coordinate the financial aspect of the Gaza withdrawal," Peres said, adding he would discuss "distribution of resources ... and to see what can be done to get US assistance for the development of the Negev and the Galil".

 

"It is all one budget," an Israeli government official said on condition of anonymity, pointing out that if the US provides money to develop the Galil and the Negev it would free up other Israeli resources to offer more compensation to the evacuated settlers.

 

Israeli settler groups have complained the compensation packages were inadequate.

 

Half billion sought

 

One official close to the Bush administration said officials in Washington estimated Israel would request $500 million in aid.

 

The official said it was expected that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would raise the issue during an upcoming meeting with US President George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

 

Israel has budgeted about $1 billion for the pullout.

 

But the withdrawal could cost a great deal more once Israel finishes compensating the 9000 evacuated settlers, moves its military installations and completes construction of the new fences and surveillance equipment it is putting along its border with Gaza, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

 

Settler shot

 

Palestinian armed men on Tuesday shot and seriously wounded an Israeli in a Gaza Strip settlement, military officials and rescue workers said.

The wounded Israeli was in a greenhouse in the Jewish settlement of Morag at the time of the shooting, rescue services said.