Sat, Apr 16, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Sharon might evacuate more settlements: report

AP , JERUSALEM

The Yediot Ahronot daily yesterday quoted unidentified sources close to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as saying he might evacuate additional West Bank settlements after the summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, while connecting major settlement blocs to Israel.

The newspaper said Sharon is likely to take action in the next few months if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't last long enough in his position to carry out a final peace deal with Israel, prompting Israel to act unilaterally to decide its final borders.

Sharon's office denied the report, and said diplomatic moves after the pullout would be conducted within the context of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.

The plan, which the US introduced in June 2003, quickly stalled because neither side carried out the initial phase. Israel was to halt settlement activity and Palestinians were to dismantle violent groups responsible for attacking Israelis.

Yediot said the isolated settlements that would be evacuated are located in Palestinian population centers in the northern West Bank and the southern Mount Hebron region.

In tandem, the newspaper said, Israel would expand major settlement blocs near Israel's borders to create a contiguous stretch of Israeli-controlled territory.

Sharon, who plans to dismantle all 21 Gaza settlements and four isolated ones in the northern West Bank this summer, is already planning to fill in the gap separating the largest settlement bloc, Maaleh Adumim, from Jerusalem. The plan has outraged Palestinians who see the eastern sector of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

SWEEPING REFORM

Abbas on Thursday ordered a sweeping reform of splintered Palestinian security services, a step toward meeting a key US and Israeli demand.

Abbas declared that more than a dozen security agencies are to be combined into three branches under a single command, handing the reins to his tough-minded interior minister, Nasser Yousef.

The timing of Abbas' move may be linked to his upcoming trip to the US, which has been pressing him to take measures to rein in militants.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said this week that Abbas wants his Washington talks to concentrate on Palestinian demands, not on US and Israeli demands on him. The consolidation order follows efforts to co-opt militants into security forces.

In another step that should win praise in Washington, Abbas has already fired two top security commanders -- Ismail Jaber in the West Bank and Abdel Razek Majaidie, both associated with late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and mentioned frequently in corruption allegations.

WEAPONS

Meanwhile, a Jewish settler leader in the Gaza Strip yesterday said settlers would comply with a Israeli Defense Ministry order to return army-issue weapons to the military, defusing a potentially serious problem ahead of the evacuation.

The comment by Avner Shimoni, head of the Gaza Coast Settlers Council, followed Thursday's announcement that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had instructed the military to work with settlers on a voluntary handover of weapons just before the pullout.

The decision by the Defense Ministry on weapons confiscation reflected growing concern that extremists might resort to violence during the evacuation. Most opponents of the pullout have said they will confine their resistance to non-violent measures, but fears persist that a small minority could resort to live fire.

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