Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israel puts West Bank pullout on hold

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has put his plans for a unilateral pullout from much of the West Bank on hold for now, but has not abandoned the idea altogether, a top Olmert aide said yesterday, confirming a newspaper report.

The Haaretz daily said Olmert told Cabinet ministers this week that in light of the Israel-Hezbollah war, the pullout was no longer his top priority. Support in Israel for unilateral moves appears to be dwindling after troops waged war this summer in Lebanon and Gaza, two territories Israel left on its own without a peace deal.

"This is what the prime minister said," Shariv said, referring to the Haaretz report. "Right now, we will deal with other issues. It's not that it [the pullout] was canceled, but it is not on the agenda."

"Right now, we will put our efforts and focus on other things," Shariv said.

Housing Minister Meir Shetreet said he also believed the pullout was being frozen.

"It is my assessment the prime minister will not deal with this [the West Bank pullout] in the coming period, because it's really not on the agenda," he told Israel Army Radio.

"I cannot say that the prime minister has dropped the plan. I don't think he has reached such a conclusion," said Shetreet, who opposes a unilateral pullout and favors trying to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Shetreet is a member of Olmert's Kadima Party.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army and several Palestinian witnesses said Israeli soldiers had killed two Palestinian militants yesterday after a standoff near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

An army spokeswoman said two Islamic Jihad gunmen were shot and killed when they resisted arrest and shot at troops from within a cave where they were hiding.

Violence has continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while Israel has also been fighting Hezbollah guerrillas. A five-day-old ceasefire in the war in Lebanon has largely held.

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