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Peres Voices Cautious Optimism Before Start of Gaza Pullout


Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres is voicing guarded optimism about the long-awaited pullout from the Gaza Strip, which begins Monday.

Exuding a calm demeanor, Mr. Peres did not flinch when asked about the possibility of violence in Gaza over the coming days as Israel vacates Jewish settlements.

"We may have some problems," he said. "But by and large, I think we shall do it on time from the beginning to the end. And there will not be any civil war. And if there are skirmishes, we shall handle them with care and overcome them."

The deputy prime minister was speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, hours before Israeli troops were to seal off Gaza settlements.

Also appearing on the program was Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa, who admitted that hardline Palestinian militants could cause trouble during the Israeli pullout.

"We tried our best to stop these kinds of attacks through dialogue, but we also made it clear that, if need be, we will have to try to put an end to such attacks by force," said Mr.al-Kidwa. "Hopefully, we will not have to do such things, and hopefully all Palestinian factions will remain committed to our agreement with regard to the ceasefire."

Even if the coming days go relatively smoothly, Mr. al-Kidwa said that the dismantling of Israeli settlements is not, by itself, enough to guarantee a peaceful foundation for the future.

"We hope that after the withdrawal we have a good degree of freedom of movement for persons and goods," he added. "We need good accessibility - a linkage between Gaza and the West Bank, and linkage between Gaza and the outside world."

But former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says, after what many Israelis consider a sacrifice, dismantling Jewish settlements, the burden of keeping the peace process moving forward will fall heavily on the Palestinians, as well.

"It is extremely painful for the people who have lived in these [Jewish] settlements for decades, who are being asked to withdraw for the prospect of a negotiation and not for anything that is being done in return," he said. "And for the Arab side, they have to understand that if they do not reciprocate by reducing their terrorism, any future peace process will become almost impossible."

For his part, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres noted that the Gaza pullout has exposed fault lines that run through Israel's body politic. But, with both Israeli and Palestinian security forces taking up positions around the long-disputed area, Mr. Peres noted, in his words, "it is our decision and I am sure that history will justify our choice."

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