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Sharon details more of withdrawal plan
Updated: 2004-04-13 15:12

Israel will keep six large blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank under its control as part of a plan to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday.

Sharon said Israel would retain control of settlements inside Hebron and the nearby enclave of Kiryat Arba, as well as four others: Maaleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Ariel and Gush Etzion.

"Only Israeli political initiative will retain our strong grasp of the large settlement blocs and security areas," Sharon said in a speech at Maaleh Adumim, near Jerusalem.

Sharon speaks Monday, April 12, 2004 in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim. [AP]
"These are places that will remain under Israeli control and that will continue to grow stronger and develop."

Sharon has proposed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank as part of a plan of disengagement from the Palestinians.

He has asked his Likud party to vote on his withdrawal proposal and is scheduled to discuss the matter Wednesday with President Bush in Washington.

Sharon said the withdrawal is necessary because the Palestinian Authority has failed to rein in attacks on Israelis and because the diplomatic process is in a "frozen state."

"Only support for the disengagement plan will allow us to continue to manage a relentless battle against terror," Sharon said. "Disengagement allows us a free hand to act against terror."

He said disengaging from Palestinian territories Israel has occupied since 1967 would boost the country's economy and lead to "a wave of investment."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told The Associated Press that "settlements in the West Bank are just as illegal as those in Gaza."

If Israel tries to annex part of the West Bank, "we will not get to peace and not to security," Erekat told the AP.

Warning from Egypt

Earlier, Bush and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said an Israeli pullback from Gaza would be a positive step if coupled with the proposed 'road map' to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The 'road map' -- a peace plan backed by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- lays out a series of steps both Israel and the Palestinians must take with a view to ending the violence and establishing a Palestinian state in 2005

"Any withdrawal from occupied territory is very highly appreciated," Mubarak said after a meeting with Bush at his ranch near Crawford, Texas.

But Mubarak warned that a withdrawal from Gaza, which borders Egypt, without any further steps toward a settlement "would not be accepted by public opinion in the area."

Mubarak said Egypt would do "whatever it takes" to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Alon Pinkas, Israel's consul general in New York, told CNN that Sharon's government is intent on withdrawal "in a way that is both consistent with [President Bush's] vision of a two-state solution and consistent with the road map that was published in 2003."

Israel is building a barrier around much of the West Bank, saying the partition is necessary to stop Palestinian militants from infiltrating its territory to carry out attacks inside the country.

Palestinians call the barrier a land grab, saying it leaves many Palestinians cut off from farms, schools and hospitals as it winds its way through the West Bank.

Steps on the 'road map'

In phase one of of the 'road map' Palestinians have to end attacks against Israel, and for Israel has to freeze settlement activity and dismantle settlements established since March 2001.

Gaza is already separated from Israel by a fence, but Israeli troops remain in the area to guard Jewish settlements. Removing the settlements would mean no Israelis would be left for the Israeli military to protect.

In 1994, under the Oslo Accords, Israel ceded control of most of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, but kept control of the coastline, borders and 24 settlements where about 7,500 Israelis live in heavily guarded enclaves.

Palestinians say that any withdrawal of those settlements should be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians have formal self-rule over 58 percent of Gaza, according to the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.

Israel seized Gaza in 1967 during the Six-Day War and began building settlements there soon after.

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