- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2005

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday he has begun coordinating a Gaza withdrawal with the Palestinians and won’t be deterred by increasingly belligerent opposition at home, including threats against him and his Cabinet ministers.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed two armed Palestinians who the army said approached a West Bank settlement. The two belonged to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent group with ties to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Militants said the gunmen were from a local Al Aqsa cell financed by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, who oppose a fledgling Israeli-Palestinian truce.

Mr. Sharon, speaking at a carefully scripted press conference, said if Palestinian militants attack Israeli soldiers or settlers during the Gaza withdrawal, set to begin in July, Israel would respond harshly and may call off the pullout.

Israel’s parliament was to hold a final vote on the Gaza withdrawal today, with the plan expected to win overwhelming approval. Having lost the political battle, Jewish extremists have stepped up a campaign of intimidation against politicians who support the plan.

“In my entire life, I have never surrendered to threats, and I have no intention of starting now,” Mr. Sharon said. “I conveyed this message to my fellow ministers and Knesset members who are under pressure. The government will take all means necessary to ensure maximum security, and we will soon hold discussions on this subject.”

Law-enforcement officials have expressed growing concern about the threats. Officials in Israel’s Shin Bet security service have said extremists might try to assassinate Mr. Sharon or attack a key Jerusalem site sacred to Muslims and Jews in a last-ditch attempt to stop the withdrawal.

Mr. Sharon said he does not fear for his life and will push ahead with the Gaza plan.

The prime minister originally envisioned the Gaza pullout as a unilateral move, but said yesterday he is ready to work with the new Palestinian leadership.

“We already started to coordinate,” he said. “I instructed to start coordination of our withdrawal … from Gaza.”

Mr. Sharon said he hopes coordination with Mr. Abbas will prevent Islamist militants from taking over once Israel leaves Gaza. Palestinian legislative elections are set for July, coinciding with the start of the pullout, and the militant Hamas group is seen as a strong challenger to Mr. Abbas’ Fatah.

If Mr. Abbas fails to ensure calm during the pullout, Mr. Sharon said, Israel’s reaction would be “very, very harsh and hard.”

Mr. Sharon said his plan would solidify Israel’s grip on the main settlement blocs in the West Bank, which “will be part of the Jewish state in the future.”

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat responded, “Israel must choose between settlements or peace. It cannot have both.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide