Sharon pushes for Gaza withdrawal

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has unveiled an accelerated timetable for his planned pullout from the Gaza Strip.

    Sharon: The disengagement plan will be carried out. Period.

    Despite opposition within his own party, Sharon told lawmakers of his right-wing Likud party on Tuesday that a draft bill would win parliamentary approval by early November.

    The bill authorising the evacuation of settlers and soldiers from Gaza would be presented to cabinet ministers by 26 September. Sharon would then seek cabinet approval for it by 24 October.

    "I expect that on 3 November, the law will be adopted by parliament," he added. 

    Parliament has yet to have its say on Sharon's plan for "disengaging" from conflict with the Palestinians by uprooting all 21 settlements in Gaza and four out of 120 in the West Bank.

    "This plan will be applied, and that's it," Sharon warned opponents of the plan at the meeting in the Israeli parliament.

    Political sources said the withdrawal could begin early next year under Sharon's accelerated timetable.

    But Sharon's US-backed plan must still overcome right-wing resistance in his coalition. He may have to reshape his government to guarantee a majority, both in his cabinet and in parliament.

    Ganim, one of the West Bank
    settlements to be disengaged 

    Sharon failed on Monday to persuade his security cabinet to speed up a Gaza withdrawal agreed in principle by the government two months ago, political sources said.

    The government has previously announced that all 8000 settlers should leave Gaza by September next year and troops will be pulled out by the end of 2005.

    US backing

    The disengagement plan was endorsed by US President George Bush in April, when he irked Palestinians by saying it was "unrealistic" to expect Israel to withdraw all its settlers from the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank.

    In an apparent attempt to bolster Sharon against his internal critics, Washington has turned a blind eye to new Israeli plans to resume settlement activity in contravention of the terms of the internationally-backed road map peace plan.


    In response to Sharon's comments, the Palestinian Authority has said it is ready to assume its responsibilities in areas of the occupied territories once the Israelis have left.

    Negotiations minister Saib Uraiqat told on Tuesday: "I don't think we should look at what Sharon says, we must look at what he does. He is still building new settlements on the ground."

    The Palestinian Authority is ready to assume its responsibilities in any territories that Israel retreats from in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip.

    The Palestinians welcome the Gaza pullout plan, saying they support an Israeli withdrawal from any parts of the West Bank and Gaza, but say that it should not be at the expense of a comprehensive peace agreement.

    Uraiqat added: "We insist that eventual withdrawal forms part of the roadmap and is not a substitute for it".

    The internationally-backed road map peace plan aims for the creation of a Palestinian state by next year, but has made little progress since it was endorsed by both the Israelis and Palestinians last year.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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