Sharon forges ahead with Gaza plan

Israel has drawn up a timetable to withdraw from the occupied Gaza Strip by October 2005, according to Israeli army radio.

    Israeli cabinet has yet to order end of illegal settlements

    Although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office is yet to approve a timetable, a governmental committee has prepared a plan to evacuate settlers and occupation soldiers from the region.

    Army radio also reported that settlers could start leaving their illegal colonies from August 2004 until August 2005 in return for compensation.

    But after 1 September "the Israeli army will enter Gaza and evacuate the settlers by force", the radio said.

    "15 September is described according to this document as the end of the evacuation of the civilian population. The end of the military in the area [follows] 15 days after that."

    Evacuation undecided

    Israel's government voted in favour of a plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip earlier this week.

    But it did not approve the evacuation of Jewish settlements, delaying a vote on the highly charged issue until next year.

    Facing intense opposition from right-wingers in his Likud party to abandon the plan or water it down, Sharon will need the next few months to stabilise his coalition and possibly bring the centre-left Labour Party into his government.

    Around 7800 settlers live amidst 1.3 million Palestinians in the impoverished coastal strip which was occupied by Israel in 1967.

    The Palestinians have expressed lukewarm support for the plan but insist it should not take the place of a negotiated settlement leading to an independent state including all of the West Bank.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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