Sharon steps up campaign for withdrawal plan
* Qorei says plan cannot be discussed amid raids
* Media says Gaza pullout will take 18 months
* Israeli SC freezes construction on one barrier section
JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has stepped up efforts to muster support at home and abroad for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a day after deadly army raids on the stronghold of Palestinian militants.
The premier discussed his so-called disengagement plan on Wednesday night with defence chiefs, who recommended a total evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements but advised on retaining control over the territory’s border with Egypt. Quoting military sources, Israeli public radio and the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily, said such a withdrawal would not take place before the US presidential election in November.
In a bid to bolster his plan, Sharon is sending top aide Dov Weisglass to Washington on Sunday ahead of his own face-to-face talks with US President George W. Bush at the end of the month. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom left for the United States on Thursday and is expected to hold talks with several senior members of the US administration, as well as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
But some of Israel’s far-right ministers were running their own US campaign against the withdrawal plan. Transport Minister Avigdor Lieberman met US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer on Wednesday and warned him against the risks of handing security control of the Gaza Strip back to the Palestinians.
On Wednesday, the United Nations’ top Middle East envoy suggested in Cairo that an “international presence” be deployed in the Gaza Strip should Israel go ahead with its withdrawal plan. Meanwhile Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei said such a plan could not be discussed while Israel was carrying out its raids in the Gaza Strip.
“The aggression which has started in Gaza is very dangerous and is a threat to the whole region,” he said Thursday after a meeting with French Industry Minister Nicole Fontaine. “We do not want to talk about a withdrawal while killings are going on,” said Qorei, who was due to meet the European Union’s Middle East envoy Marc Otte later the same day.
Gaza pullout: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed pullout from the Gaza Strip will not be completed for a year and a half, the Israeli media said Thursday. A dismantling of Gaza’s Jewish settlements is part of a package of unilateral measures for which Sharon still needs approval from the government and parliament, before possibly submitting it to a referendum.
Quoting military sources, Israeli public radio and the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily, said such a withdrawal would not take place before the US presidential election in November 2004.
Supreme Court: Israel’s Supreme Court has imposed an open-ended freeze on construction of a 25-kilometer section of the country’s contentious West Bank separation barrier, a lawyer in the case said on Thursday.
The court issued its order Wednesday in response to a complaint by Palestinian and Israeli opponents of the barrier, said their lawyer Mohammed Dahla. The opponents say the planned route of the barrier, which Israel says is needed to block suicide bombers, will severely disrupt the lives of 30,000 Palestinians living in the area.
Dahla said he had submitted a report by an outside group of former Israeli military officials questioning the planned route. The report claims the current route goes far beyond security considerations, and that a less intrusive path would be equally effective at protecting Israelis, he said. —Agencies