Gaza settlers might be relocated to West Bank
* Two Palestinians and two Israel soldiers injured in exchange of fire
JERUSALEM: Under an emerging plan to dismantle settlements, Israel is considering moving Gaza Strip settlers to West Bank areas that Israel wants to annex under a final peace deal, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman said on Friday.
Sharon who announced earlier in the week plans to dismantle 17 Gaza Strip settlements and some West Bank communities in the next two years, is looking at several options and will present them to US officials, spokesman Assaf Shariv said.
Sharon’s ideas have outraged his traditional right-wing and settler supporters, some of whom accuse him of timing the announcement with a police investigation into allegations that a real estate developer bribed him.
Police questioned Sharon for a second time on Thursday, and Israeli media reported that the top police investigator believes there is not enough evidence to indict the prime minister. If Sharon is indicted, he could be forced to resign.
Last month, the real estate developer, David Appel, was indicted. Among other things, he was accused of giving Sharon’s son, Gilad, US$690,000 and promising another US$3 million to the family farm in exchange for Sharon’s help in a business deal that never materialised.
Sharon’s so-called “disengagement plan” is still incomplete, Shariv said, adding that the details will be finalised in two to three months. Moving Gaza settlers to the West Bank is one of several options being considered, he said, refusing to elaborate.
Two US officials, possibly Middle East envoys William Burns and Elliot Abrams are to arrive in Israel in the coming weeks to discuss the plan with Sharon, Shariv said. Later in February or in early March, Sharon hopes to travel to Washington to present his ideas to President George W Bush.
“We are doing checks, including that the (Gaza) settlers will be evacuated to the settlements that will certainly remain with us under a final status agreement, such as Maale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion,” Shariv said, referring to the three largest blocs of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, Sharon’s top deputy, said he told Secretary of State Colin Powell during a meeting in Washington on Thursday that Sharon’s “disengagement plan” would not come in place of a peace deal that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state in some of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“We see this as part of the implementation of the understanding acceptable to both us and the Americans,” Olmert told Israel Radio. “We see it as a station along the way that will continue until we reach ... a final settlement.”
Meanwhile, violence again flared in Gaza. Palestinian militants fired two Qassam rockets and several mortar shells at a Gaza settlement and an Israeli border community, damaging a house and several green houses. –AP
Two Palestinians, including an 18-month-old boy, and two Israeli soldiers were wounded on Friday in an exchange of fire in the southern Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah, Palestinian medics and Israeli military sources said.
Israeli army sources confirmed that troops had returned fire close to the border with Egypt after two soldiers were lightly wounded by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) fired by Palestinian militants. —Agencies