The minister, Shaul Mofaz, on Thursday issued his recommendation, which is expected to be approved by the government, as Israeli and Palestinian officials held their first talks on coordinating the pullout.

 

Mofaz met with top security officials, including army and police commanders, to discuss a proposal to delay the pullout by three weeks, until 15 August. The Defence Ministry said Mofaz agreed to the delay, sending the matter to a ministerial committee led by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

 

Sharon has indicated he would support the delay but wanted to get approval from his security chiefs before making a decision.

 

In media interviews released on Thursday before the Jewish Passover holiday, Sharon insisted the evacuation, which includes the removal of all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small settlements in the West Bank, would take place even if it were delayed.

 

He rejected speculation that he was stalling.

 

Declared reason

 

"The disengagement will be carried out," Mofaz told Israel Army Radio. "Whoever thinks this will open the way to delays or not implementing (the evacuation) or other pressures, is simply wrong."

 

"Whoever thinks this
will open the way to delays or not implementing (the evacuation) or
other
pressures is
simply wrong"

Ariel Sharon,
Israeli Prime Minister

The declared reason for the proposed delay in the Gaza pullout plan is respect for Orthodox Jews, who observe a three-week mourning period for the destruction of the biblical Jewish temples.

 

But some cabinet ministers have suggested the delay is needed for the government to iron out snags in the preparations.

 

The government has begun making compensation payments to settlers losing their homes, and there are no concrete plans yet for providing them with new housing.

 

The plan has been hindered by lack of cooperation from settlers, who overwhelmingly oppose the withdrawal. There also has been no coordination with the Palestinians.

 

Top Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday met for the first time to discuss coordinating the pullout.