Israel: Gaza withdrawal will take months

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed pullout from the Gaza Strip has been delayed for at least a year and a half.

    Israeli PM's promised withdrawl delayed at least 18 months

    The Israeli media on Thursday said dismantling Israeli colonies in Gaza would need approval from the government and parliament, before possibly submitting it to a referendum.
    Quoting military sources, Israeli public radio and the Yediot Aharonot newspaper claimed such a withdrawal would not take place before the US presidential election in November 2004.
    Negotiations would also be necessary over what compensation would be awarded to the Gaza Strip's 7500 settlers. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal under international law.

    Yediot quoted a senior military source as saying a likely date for the completion of the pullout is September 2005. 
    Internal dissent

    Before taking his so-called disengagement plan any further, Sharon will have to rally Foreign Minister Silvam Shalom and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


    Click on the link below to see a map of Israel's illegal settlements in Gaza

    Gaza Strip



    Both have made no secret of their opposition to the plan. Many cabinet members from other right-wing parties reject any plan involving the removal of settlements.
    Yet Shalom and Netanyahu have refrained from openly confronting Sharon on the plan which, according to opinion polls, has the backing of most of the Israeli population. 
    US involvement

    In a bid to further bolster his plan, Sharon is sending his top aide Dov Weissglas to Washington on Sunday ahead of his own face-to-face talks with US President George Bush at the end of the month.
    Defence chiefs recommended on Wednesday that Sharon's so called "unilateral disengagement" plan should involve dismantling all Israeli colonies in the Gaza Strip, while retaining control over a small strip of land at the border with Egypt.
    They also advised on a withdrawal from only some of the most isolated settlements in the West Bank.

    UN plan

    News of a long delay came at the same time as UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen proposed an "international presence" to prevent Israeli forces running riot ahead of a withdrawal.

    Palestinians fear an Israeli rampage aimed at depriving their resistance fighters of any claims they may have to "victory" in forcing the withdrawal of a far superior military force.

    Involved in the drafting of the Oslo accords in the 1990s, Roed-Larsen said the UN had to do "everything that can hinder chaos and anarchy".

    "It might be that the situation will necessitate an international presence."

    It was the first time the UN has offered to help Israel "disengage" from Palestinian territory.

    Rafah refugees

    But any withdrawal will come too late for Ali al-Najilli and Misbah Mawafi.

    More than 220 Palestinians have
    died in the Rafah refugee camp

    Both 15-years-old, the teenagers are the latest victims in a list of death visited upon the Rafah refugee camp. Both were killed by an Israeli helicopter gunship firing missiles.

    One eyewitness said the boys "were just in front of our house with friends when the helicopter fired on them".

    Sound of silence

    Local officials say 220 refugees have died in Rafah during Israeli raids over the past three and a half years.

    The huge toll represents almost 10% of all Palestinians killed in the second Intifada.

    "Why are there no protests from the international community, especially Europe and the US, when the Israelis kill our children?" asked Ali's father, Abu Adib.

    "The silence of the Americans and the Europeans acts as a green light to the Israelis to kill our children."

    Palestinians would be happy for Israel to withdraw from any land, but see the proposed unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as a ruse to annex parts of the West Bank and deny them a viable independent state.

    Both territories were seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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