Israeli official: Keep troops in Gaza

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz reportedly wants to keep troops in settlements in Gaza Strip even after the Jewish settlers are evacuated, as a "bargaining chip" in future negotiations with the Palestinians.

    Mofaz says troops will have 'more freedom of movement'

    Mofaz backs the evacuation of residents from the southern settlement of Gush Katif in one operation in around 12 months' time, but is considering leaving some troops in the area after the settlers' departure, the Israeli Haaretz daily reported.

    "In the absence of Israeli civilians in the area, the Israeli Defence Forces would enjoy more freedom of movement, and if necessary, the army would enter Palestinian Gaza, as it does now", the daily said.

    Israel, the report added, "will have to make it clear to Hamas and Islamic Jihad that the departure from Gaza is neither an escape nor a retreat and the army won't stop fighting them after the withdrawal the way it stopped fighting Hizb Allah after the withdrawal from Lebanon".

    Mofaz, the daily said, "believes the national interest in the West Bank is different."

    "Israel will have to make it clear to Hamas and Islamic Jihad that the departure from Gaza is neither an escape nor a retreat and the army won't stop fighting them after the withdrawal the way it stopped fighting Hizb Allah after the withdrawal from Lebanon"

    Israeli Haaretz newspaper

    "Israel has to take up defensible borders until there is a permanent agreement and afterward".

    Mofaz supports strengthening the main settlement blocs in the West Bank, which he regards as being of national interest.

    Jordan Valley


    Strengthening those areas means expanding the settlements and moving isolated settlements into the blocs. Mofaz's formula, the daily said, is "the size of the bloc determines the extent of the security".

    Control over the Jordan Valley is also an Israeli interest, and will be part of the permanent agreement, according to Mofaz, the daily said.

    Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans last week for the evacuation of 17 settlements in Gaza, saying that in the future no Jews would live in the territory.
     
    His proposal has run into severe opposition from nationalist members of his governing coalition as well as members of his own Likud party.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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