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Israeli Deputy PM Promises Troop Withdrawal from Most Palestinian Areas - 2003-12-11


Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says, under a plan backed by him and Prime Minister Sharon, Israel will unilaterally withdraw from some, but not all, Palestinian areas. However, the plan does not yet have the backing of the full Israeli Cabinet, and the Palestinian prime minister is warning that any unilateral act by Israel will increase violence in the region.

Mr. Olmert says that in the near future what the Palestinians refer to as the Israeli military occupation of their areas will almost completely disappear.

He says residents of Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will no longer be able to claim that they are living "under Israeli guns."

Mr. Olmert promised that he will soon disclose details of his blueprint for a unilateral Israeli troop withdrawal from some areas of the territories.

He says, under his plan, Israel will also keep the whole of Jerusalem, rejecting demands that the eastern side of the city should become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia warned Israel against taking unilateral steps, saying this will only increase violence in the region.

"To impose unilaterally the borders on the ground, or to put the Palestinian in cages, in Bantustans, it does not work," said Ahmed Qureia.

The Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, also warned Israel against imposing its own ideas.

His spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, says, instead of talking about unilateral moves, Israel should stick to the international 'road map' to peace plan.

"These statements are not enough," he said. "What we are looking for is seeing that, on the ground, the end of this Israeli [military] occupation, the end of this [Jewish] settlement activity and coming back to the negotiating table, in order to proceed on the road map."

Mr. Olmert says that Israel also backs the road map to peace plan, which calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

At the same time, he says, Israel must start preparing to take actions on its own, if peace talks with the Palestinians break down - something he sees as inevitable.

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