Da The Daily Star del 10/05/2005
Originale su http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&a...

Sharon delays Israeli withdrawal from Gaza

Israeli foreign minister warns that disengagement plan is 'not a done deal'

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delayed Monday the operation to pull out of the Gaza Strip until the middle of August as his number two in government warned the withdrawal was 'not a done deal.' Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom then cast another cloud over the chances of the so-called disengagement plan being carried out when he said the government would have to have a rethink if the radical Hamas movement triumphs in Palestinian legislative elections in July.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat complained that the Israelis are going it alone. "We want to coordinate but we find ourselves waiting for the next Israeli dictate, the next unilateral decision," he said.

Sharon told public television that the withdrawal would take place "immediately after the [Jewish mourning day] of Tisha Be'Av - on August 15, 17 or 16? I don't want to commit myself to an exact date."

The premier had already strongly hinted he was in favor of a postponement from late July so that the evacuation did not begin until after the traditional mourning for the destruction of the second Jewish Temple which ends on August 14.

The government has been criticized for failing to factor in the mourning period when drawing up its original timetable for an operation which is likely to last around a month.

Some members of his coalition government had argued against a delay which would only play into the hands of opponents who are trying to scupper the whole project.

The withdrawal from the 21 Gaza settlements and four small Jewish enclaves in the northern West Bank will mark the first time that Israel has left occupied Palestinian territory.

Sharon hopes that by voluntarily leaving Gaza, he can ease international pressure for a more comprehensive pullout from the West Bank where the vast majority of the 245,000-strong settler population live.

But Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres warned that the pullout was still "not a done deal," adding that it could still be derailed if the homes of all the Jewish settlers are demolished.

The government has yet to decide on whether to demolish the homes of the 8,000 settlers who are to be uprooted.

Peres said the whole process would be delayed by months if the homes are razed as Israel would be obliged under international law to remove the debris.

"We are talking about 12 million tons. It will take three months to remove, and cost 250 million shekels [$57 million]. Then we have to find a place in Israel to dump it. This alone can spoil it," Peres said.

Although Sharon has previously said that Israel had "no intention" of destroying the houses, he said Monday that he remained undecided.

"It depends on the attitude of the Palestinians," he told public television.

"On the one hand, the image of destroying houses is not good for Israel. But on the other hand, I don't want terrorist flags waving from the rooftops."

Meanwhile Shalom threw another potential spanner into the works by arguing that the whole pullout plan should be rethought in the event of a Hamas victory in parliamentary elections.

"It seems to me illogical to move forward with the implementation of the disengagement plan as if nothing had happened," Shalom told a seminar when asked how Israel would react to a win for Hamas.

The radical Islamist movement, which has been behind the majority of anti-Israeli attacks during the course of the near five-year Palestinian uprising, claimed victory after municipal elections last week.

Although the previously dominant Fatah faction scraped to overall victory, Hamas emerged as the winner in the main cities that were contested.

According to the original Gaza withdrawal timetable, the pullout was to begin just a week after the Palestinian parliamentary election, where Hamas, fielding candidates for the first time, is expected to make a strong showing.

The pullout delay would give Israeli opponents three more weeks to argue against handing Gaza over to a Palestinian government with a significant Hamas component.

On Monday, Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire with his police in two West Bank locations. But officials announced that all the fugitive militants in the two towns under Palestinian security control, Jericho and Tulkarem, have joined security forces.

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