- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

JERUSALEM — Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed that more than 1,200 Jewish settler homes in the Gaza Strip will be demolished after Israel withdraws in late summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

Building housing will be “a centerpiece of what could be really good for the Palestinian people” as a result of Israel’s pullout, Miss Rice said after two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree that the appropriate result is the complete removal of all settler homes in Gaza,” she said. “Israel will undertake the dismantling of the dwellings.”

U.S. and Israeli officials later said that Israel also will pay for the destruction. The Palestinians will do the cleanup after the demolition, they added, but funds for that operation have yet to be found.

Miss Rice indicated that she would encourage donations by the international community at Thursday’s ministerial meeting in London of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries and Russia, as well as through other channels.

A senior Israeli official estimated that it will take three to four weeks to evacuate the 9,000 Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, after which their homes can be razed. About 1.3 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said it was the Palestinians’ choice to destroy the homes.

“If they wanted them, they could have had them,” he said.

Palestinian officials said the cleanup, which a senior U.S. official traveling with the secretary estimated will cost $50 million to $60 million, will create much-needed jobs for many Palestinians.

Miss Rice, who met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the Palestinian Authority “is reviewing a master plan, so that future land use and housing in former settlement areas are economically suitable for the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

She said that the two sides also had agreed to “ensure a peaceful disengagement and create the conditions for economic viability and hope” in the Gaza Strip.

“Palestinian goods and people should flow in and out of Gaza at a level that will allow for economic revival to begin immediately,” she said. “In this regard, Israel will, consistent with its security needs, evaluate the way it manages the crossings.”

The crossings into the Gaza Strip and the reopening of its airport, which was closed after the start of the uprising in 2000, are among the most serious issues to be resolved before the pullout begins in mid-August.

Miss Rice said the agreements finalized during her visit were the result of months of negotiations between the two sides helped by special envoys Lt. Gen. William Ward and James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank.

Later in Amman, Jordan, Miss Rice expressed frustration with continuing Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank.

“I discussed the issues of both the settlements and the wall with the prime minister, the foreign minister and anybody else who would listen,” she said at a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Farouq Qasrawi.

Also yesterday, Israel apologized to the United States for agreeing to sell Harpy attack drones and other advanced technology to China.

“It is impossible to hide the crisis between Israel and the United States with regard to the security industries. We are doing everything possible to put it behind us,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on Israel Radio.

“The United States is our biggest ally, and none of the things that were done were done with the intention of harming U.S. interests,” he said.

Miss Rice had raised concerns about the deal on her way to the Middle East on Friday.

“I believe that the Israelis now understand our concerns, and I’m certain that, as good partners can, that we can come to some resolution to allow us to proceed,” she said yesterday.

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