- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel's chief of staff was at the center of a political storm yesterday after he was reported to have said Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would have to be disbanded under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, the hard-line head of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), came under fire from conservative politicians after Ha'aretz daily reported him as saying that both Israelis and Palestinians know that "at the end of the day most settlements will be evacuated."

His comments, apparently leaked to the Israeli newspaper, were made last week during a meeting at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Gen. Ya'alon was also reported to have said that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have to be "expelled."

As a political storm erupted, the general sought to clarify his comments, protesting that they had been "distorted."

While he did not deny that he had referred to the evacuation of settlements, he said that he had merely summarized offers on settlements by Israel to the Palestinians two years ago.

Gen. Ya'alon took over as chief of staff earlier this year, succeeding Shaul Mofaz, who became defense minister in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government. The comments being attributed to Gen. Ya'alon are considered all the more surprising because he is viewed as an uncompromising hard-liner.

The uproar over his comments came just a day after Mr. Sharon repudiated an unprecedented statement by Israel's ambassador to the United Nations accepting that Palestinians should have their own state.

Mr. Sharon and Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at a Cabinet meeting that they did not approve and did not support Yehuda Lancry's comments to the world body on Friday ahead of a U.N. General Assembly vote this week on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Lancry said that the Israeli government supported the vision of "two states living side by side in peace and security" as the ultimate goal of negotiations.

It is the first time an Israeli official in Mr Sharon's government has expressed open support for the "two states for two peoples" principle.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian and wounded 16 persons in a crowded market in the West Bank city of Jenin yesterday, Palestinian witnesses and hospital sources said.

Troops also shot and killed a 21-year-old Palestinian in a raid in nearby Tulkarm, witnesses said. The army also said that it killed a gunman, posing as a soldier, who attacked an army post at a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

The World Food Program, a U.N. aid agency, said that troops destroyed its food warehouse in a Gaza refugee camp in a raid on Sunday. The agency also demanded compensation. The army said that it had no knowledge of any warehouse there but added that it was investigating.

Another Palestinian died when a mortar bomb slammed into an industrial zone near the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel. Witnesses said that the bomb apparently fell short of its Israeli target.

The General Assembly will hold its annual vote later this week on resolutions about the Mideast conflict. The resolutions require Israel to pull its troops out of Palestinian areas occupied since the start of the intifada and to resume negotiations about a Palestinian state.

In another development, Elliott Abrams, who received a pardon from the first President Bush for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal and who has served in the White House for over a year, has been promoted to lead the National Security Council's Office for Near East and North African Affairs.

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