Israel says Gaza pullout on schedule

Israel has pressed ahead with preparations for its pullout from Gaza, signalling business as usual despite Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation in protest at the plan.

    Israel is keen to stop arms smuggling from Egypt to Gaza

    "We are back to our routine... The disengagement will begin as planned, exactly a week from today," Asaf Shariv, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Army Radio on Monday, a day after Netanyahu's walk out at a cabinet meeting.

    Sharon's security cabinet on Monday discussed a plan to hand over to Egypt responsibility for a flashpoint corridor along Gaza's southern border, a move that could enable Israel to assert it has vacated all of occupied Gaza.

    Withdrawal deal

    The deal, which Israel's cabinet will vote on in the coming weeks, calls for Egypt to deploy on the border 750 police officers who would try to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza resistance fighters, security officials told the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

    The number of settlers planning
    to resist the pullout is falling 

    Israel will finalise its draft of the deal after the withdrawal, a committee source said. Officials had said the agreement must ensure Egypt promises not to allow any kind of weapons transfers to the Palestinians, the source said.

    In a boost to Sharon, new state figures showed 60% of the 1700 settler families, due to be removed from Gaza and a small part of the West Bank, had applied for state compensation, indicating they had dropped resistance to the pul lout.

    Statistics released two weeks ago by Israel's Disengagement Authority had put the figure at 44%.

    Support for plan

    Under the pullout, Israel will begin removing settlers from 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank on 17 August.

    Israel plans to keep control of 
    the Rafah crossing

    The operation is expected to take about a month.

    The World Court calls settlements illegal. Israel disputes this.

    A poll in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper taken after the resignation found a majority of Israelis still back the pullout. It put support at 55%, slightly down from 58% in an undated previous survey. The number of those opposed to the plan rose from 35% to 39%.

    Meanwhile, a number of Israeli soldiers began dismantling and destroying some military installations used by the army, near Bait Hanoun crossing, north of Gaza.

    Israeli-controlled borders

    In a related development, Israel on Monday ruled out giving the Palestinians their own gate to the world, insisting it would continue to control traffic in and out of Gaza after Israeli settlers and soldiers left the coastal strip.

    "We are back to our routine... The disengagement will begin as planned, exactly a week from today" 

    Asaf Shariv


    Ariel Sharon spokesperson

    Palestinians complained that Israel was unwilling to loosen its grip on Gaza.

    Just a week before the pullout begins, Israel's security cabinet met to consider how to deal with the crossing point at Rafah between Gaza and Egypt.

    Instead of endorsing a plan to relinquish control and post international inspectors to handle customs and security, the Israelis insisted on moving the crossing to the point where Gaza, Egypt and Israel meet - maintaining Israeli control.


    The issue is vital for the future of Gaza and reflects the extent to which Israel's pullout would be complete.

    No final decisions were made at the security cabinet meeting, indicating strongly that key issues will be left unresolved when the pullout begins next week - and possibly after it is completed.

    The Rafah crossing to Egypt is Gaza's only link to the outside world, as the seaside territory is surrounded on the other two sides by Israel.

    The border crossing issue is also considered vital by Israelis, who voice concerns about weapons smuggling into Gaza and flooding Israel with cheap goods that circumvent Israeli customs.

    Israel has controlled the Rafah crossing since it captured Gaza in the 1967 war. Israel maintains that its pullout will end its occupation, but Palestinians and international agencies say if Israel continues to control Gaza's borders, air space and coast, it will still be considered an occupier.

    Palestinian killed

    In Tulkarim, north of the West Bank, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire on Monday, Palestinian security sources said.

    Tamer Zandik, 18, was killed with a shot to the head and his brother Mahmud Zandyk, 20, was wounded when Israeli soldiers opened fire to disperse demonstrators who were attacking them with stones in the Nur el-Shams refugee camp.

    The death brings to 4812 the number of people killed since the start of the intifada in September 2000, most of them Palestinian.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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