- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

JERUSALEM — Israel will not follow the “road map,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published yesterday, acknowledging that he is casting aside the U.S.-backed peace plan for now, even as Washington insists it is still valid.

Meanwhile, 10 Palestinians were killed yesterday in two confrontations with Israeli troops, the highest single-day death toll in the West Bank since 2002. Among those killed were at least seven armed fugitives and an 11-year-old girl.

The fighting came at the start of the Jewish new year, and Israeli troops enforced a tight holiday closure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians will be barred from Israel at least through the end of the month.

Mr. Sharon is pushing ahead with his plan of “unilateral disengagement” from the Palestinians — a withdrawal from Gaza and four West Bank settlements in 2005.

In an interview with the Yediot Ahronot daily, he outlined his long-term vision for the region, saying that after the withdrawal, “it is very possible … there will be a long period when nothing else happens.”

Mr. Sharon said that as long as there is no significant shift in the Palestinian leadership and policy, “Israel will continue its war on terrorism, and will stay in the territories that will remain after the implementation of disengagement.”

The road map was adopted by Israel and the Palestinians last year but never got off the ground, with both sides failing to meet even initial obligations. The plan envisioned a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza by 2005, and said the borders should be determined in negotiations.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he had seen the newspaper report, and he questioned whether it accurately reflected Mr. Sharon’s position on the road map.

“Prime Minister Sharon has reaffirmed his commitment to moving forward on his bold proposal to move out of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. That is a proposal that can help get us jump-started again on the road map, which is the path toward [President Bush’s] two-state solution,” Mr. McClellan said.

Polls published yesterday in Yediot and Ma’ariv dailies said 58 percent of Israelis support Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan, and about one-third oppose it. Both surveys had margins of error of 4.4 percentage points.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, troops surrounded a building where fugitives were holed up, and a gunbattle erupted, Palestinian witnesses said. Five armed men from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, were killed in the fighting.

An 11-year-old girl living nearby also was fatally shot, her family said. An uncle said the girl was shot toward the end of the fighting, after most of the soldiers had left and residents were emerging from their homes.

The Israeli brigade commander in the area, identified only as Col. Yuval, said his forces did not fire as they withdrew, even when coming under Palestinian fire, suggesting that the girl was not killed by his men.

In the West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli undercover troops killed four Palestinians during a raid of a car repair shop. The army said six fugitives were in the building, armed with assault rifles and pistols. It said four of the fugitives were killed and two arrested. The wanted men did not fire on the soldiers, the army said.


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