Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's revised "unilateral disengagement" plan has four stages, replacing a proposal for a one-step pullout from the Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said Wednesday.
Sharon was to present the new formula to Cabinet ministers yesterday, ahead of a Cabinet debate on Sunday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Gaza early yesterday, meanwhile, three Israeli tanks and a bulldozer entered Palestinian territory outside the town of Deir el-Balah and destroyed three Palestinian houses, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said.
The military said an operation was underway in an area where militants operate. On Wednesday, two Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in a Palestinian rocket attack nearby, and soldiers destroyed a rocket launcher on the roof of a building where Palestinians were living, the military said.
Media reports about the revised "unilateral disengagement" plan indicate that the process would start with evacuating three or four isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip. That would be followed by removal of the other Gaza settlements, a military redeployment in Gaza and evacuation of four small settlements in the northern part of the West Bank.
The order and exact content of the steps is not known, nor is the timetable for implementing them, though it is not expected to be quick. Sharon has pledged to complete construction of a separation barrier along and in the West Bank before making any moves there, and completion of the barrier is about a year away.
Israel says it needs the barrier to stop Palestinian suicide bombers who have killed hundreds of Israelis during more than three years of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Palestinians object to the route, which dips deep into the West Bank in some places to enclose main Jewish settlements.
Sharon's Likud Party turned down his original plan in a referendum on May 2, though the plan had U.S. backing. After the party veto, the "quartet" of Mideast mediators -- the US, EU, Russia and the UN -- also endorsed the pullout plan.
Palestinians have been ambivalent about the proposal, demanding coordination with the Israelis over a withdrawal but welcoming, in principle, any Israeli evacuation of the Palestinian areas.
Sharon has said he would coordinate the pullout with the US and Egypt but has no intention of discussing it with the Palestinians. Sharon charges that the Palestinian leadership, and especially Yasser Arafat, is involved in violence against Israel and has failed to take any steps to rein in militant groups.
Analysts say the revised plan will cause Sharon even more trouble than his original one, because opponents object in principle to evacuating settlements. They would just as vigorously oppose a blueprint for removing a few at a time as they would a one-step program.