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US Hopeful on Gaza Evacuation Despite Violence

The United States is condemning acts of violence linked to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

The Bush administration has invested a considerable diplomatic effort in support of the disengagement process. Despite Wednesday's violence including a lethal attack by an Israeli settler in the West Bank, U.S. officials are hopeful the withdrawal will go forward and improve the political climate in the region.

The settler attack killed three Palestinians and wounded two others and came in the midst of emotional scenes in Gaza, as Israeli troops forcibly evicted settlers there.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials have been in touch with both sides, appealing for calm and urging them to show restraint and to avoid actions that could exacerbate the situation.

He said while the United States supports the Gaza withdrawal, it understands the feelings of those Israelis who have had to give up their homes and relocate.

"This is a very difficult moment for these people who are leaving their homes, in some case the only homes that they have known. It's a very difficult time for the Israeli people. But Prime Minister Sharon has made a bold and courageous decision to follow-through with the withdrawal from Gaza and we certainly have supported him in that decision," he said.

Mr. McCormack said that despite the difficulty, most Israelis understand that the withdrawal is a step that needs to be taken to realize a more peaceful, stable and secure Israel.

He also commended what he said has been a seriousness of purpose on the part of the Palestinians, in working with Israeli authorities in seeing that the withdrawal is a success.

"Part of that is the deployment of Palestinian security forces. And I think that the Palestinian people also understand that this is an important moment, a potentially important moment, an important step through which they might realize a better life, a better life for themselves, a better life for their children," he said.

Two senior U.S. envoys have been in the region working in support of the withdrawal practically full-time.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Ward has been meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials to coordinate security aspects of the pullout.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch has been handling political issues, with the two parties and with other states in the region including Egypt which is stepping up security along its border with Gaza.

Both U.S. officials were in Gaza Tuesday, meeting with Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yussef and security chiefs.

Israel is withdrawing from all 21 of its settlements in Gaza and from four remote settlements in the West Bank under the disengagement plan, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon first proposed more than 18 months ago as a way to reduce friction with the Palestinians.

U.S. officials hope a successful disengagement will be a stepping stone to progress on the long-stalled international "road map" to Middle East peace.