- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is flying to the United States today, expects overwhelming support from President Bush before embarking on one of the most fundamental concessions in Israeli history — the evacuation of 9,500 Jewish settlers from their homes.

Mr. Sharon meets with Mr. Bush this week at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, a venue reserved for a select few world leaders.

An embrace from the American leader would bolster Mr. Sharon, who faces intense internal opposition to the pullout.

Mr. Sharon’s visit comes as thousands of his opponents planned a rally at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem, hoping to sabotage the withdrawal. Yesterday, Israeli troops shot and killed three teenagers in disputed circumstance in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, shattering weeks of calm and raising tensions.

Israel is set to evacuate all 21 Gaza settlements and four more in the West Bank this summer.

In exchange, Mr. Sharon wants Mr. Bush to reaffirm his statement from last year that it is “unrealistic” to expect Israel to pull back to the borders that existed before the 1967 Mideast War, because large Jewish settlement blocs have been built on the territory.

However, Israel and Washington recently have clashed over the interpretation of this statement.

Israel insists it has the right to continue expanding these settlements. The United States opposes any further construction there, saying it threatens peace with the Palestinians and violates the internationally backed “road map” peace plan that calls for a settlement freeze.

Recently, the United States objected to an Israeli plan to add 3,650 homes to the West Bank’s largest settlement, Ma’aleh Adumim. The plan would cut off Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem the capital of an independent state that includes the entire West Bank.

Mr. Bush said Friday he would raise the issue with Mr. Sharon.

“What I say publicly, I say privately. And that is, the ‘road map’ has clear obligations on settlements and that we expect the prime minister to adhere to those road map obligations,” Mr. Bush said.

Officials familiar with summit preparations said it is unlikely Mr. Bush will press Mr. Sharon too hard on the issue, fearing it could jeopardize the Gaza withdrawal plan.

Mr. Sharon’s spokesman, Assaf Shariv, said: “We are not expecting any pressure.”

The Palestinians called on Mr. Bush not to let up on the settlement issue.

Tuesday’s talks are expected to focus on issues the two leaders agree on.

Mr. Sharon has said he will not begin talks on a final peace deal until Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas cracks down on militant groups and disarms them. Mr. Abbas refuses to do so and instead has tried to co-opt them.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops fired at a group of Palestinians in a southern Gaza Strip refugee camp yesterday, killing three teenagers in the deadliest incident in Gaza since Israel and the Palestinians declared a cease-fire two months ago.

The incident in the Rafah camp, located along the border with Egypt, shattered weeks of calm and added to tensions surrounding plans by Jewish extremists to march on the disputed Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Mr. Abbas said he was “shocked” by the shootings, and he claimed that they violated the Feb. 8 truce agreement with Israel.

Shortly after the shooting, Palestinian militants fired five mortar shells toward Jewish settlements in Gaza, causing no injuries or damage, the army said.

Ali Abu Zeid, 22, a Rafah resident, said a group of boys were playing soccer in an open area in the Rafah camp when the ball was kicked toward the border fence. “The kids ran after it, and that’s when we heard gunfire,” he said.

Hospital officials said the two of the dead youths were 15 years old and the third was 14.

The Israeli army said a group of youths had entered an unauthorized area near the border and ignored warning shots to stop.

Since the Feb. 8 declaration, 13 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israel. But yesterday’s shooting was the deadliest single incident in Gaza. Five Israelis were killed in a Feb. 25 suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv nightspot.

The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the shooting threatens peace prospects.

Hamas, the largest Palestinian militant group, pledged to avenge the deaths of the three teens.

“The Palestinian people cannot stay silent in the face of this crime, and it cannot pass without punishment,” said Saeed Siyam, a Hamas leader in Gaza.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide