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Israel May Relocate Some to West Bank (AP) By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI ERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/06/04 11:56 AM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18941-2004Feb6.html
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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 Friday.
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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 U.S. officials, spokesman Assaf Shariv said.
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Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia welcomed the idea of dismantling settlements but said it´s unacceptable to move Gaza settlers to the West Bank. He said all West Bank settlements must be taken down as well.
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"The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are an integral part of our homeland and we will not give up even one centimeter of our homeland," Qureia said.
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Sharon´s ideas have outraged his traditional right-wing and settler supporters, some of whom accuse him of timing the announcement with a bribery investigation.
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Police questioned Sharon for a second time Thursday, and Israeli media reported that the top investigator believes there is not enough evidence to indict the prime minister.
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Last month, the real estate developer, David Appel, was indicted on charges of giving Sharon´s son, Gilad, $690,000 and promising another $3 million in exchange for help in a business deal.
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Sharon´s "disengagement plan" won´t be complete for another two to three months, and moving Gaza settlers to the West Bank is one of several options being considered, Shariv said.
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Two U.S. envoys 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 Bush.
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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.
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"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."
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Sharon´s approval ratings rose to 39 percent, from 33 percent the week before, after the announcement of his evacuation plan, according to poll published Friday in the Maariv daily. The survey of 603 Israelis had an error margin of 4 percentage points.
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The survey also found that 52 percent of Israelis support dismantling all Gaza Strip settlements and 58 percent want to see isolated West Bank settlements removed. Thirty-six percent oppose the evacuation of Gaza settlements, while 31 percent oppose the removal of West Bank communities, according to the poll.
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Sharon first made his ideas public in December, outlining a plan under which Israel would impose a boundary with the Palestinians. Sharon has said he will only move ahead if there is no progress on the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
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So far, both Israel and the Palestinians have failed to implement the first phase of the plan, which calls for Israel to halt settlement activity and for the Palestinians to rein in militants.
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U.S. officials gave a mixed response this week to Sharon´s plans, saying they welcome the dismantling of settlements, but were wary of unilateral moves.
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Some 7,500 Jewish settlers live scattered among 1.3 million Palestinians in the crowded Gaza Strip.
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Palestinian militants repeatedly have attacked settlers, especially in the past three years of fighting. Sharon´s plan would leave three Gaza settlements, at least until a final peace deal.
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Volence flared again in the Gaza Strip on Friday, with Palestinian militants firing an anti-tank missile that slammed into an army jeep near the southern town of Rafah, the military said. Two soldiers were hurt.
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As troops came to evacuate the wounded, militants fired two more missiles at the group but missed. Soldiers returned fire, but did not report hitting any attackers, an army spokesman said.
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Doctors at a Palestinian hospital said they were treating three people wounded in the incident, including a 19-month-old boy who was shot in the neck and was in critical condition. An umbrella group of several militant factions said it carried out the attack.
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Earlier, militants fired two Qassam rockets and several mortar shells at a Gaza settlement and an Israeli border community, damaging a house and several greenhouses. (© 2004 The Associated Press 02/06/04)
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