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Evacuated Jewish Settlements Should be Left for Palestinians, says Peres - 2004-02-11


Israel's opposition leader, Shimon Peres, says if Israel evacuates its settlements in Gaza, their infrastructure should be left for the Palestinians. Mr. Peres made the appeal at a news conference at which he also said the European Union should offer Israel and the Palestinians membership as an incentive to make peace.

Mr. Peres says what Israel built for the Jewish settlers in Gaza must remain for the Palestinians to use.

He says that all public buildings, schools, and housing must be left behind.

Mr. Peres says Israel must not destroy the settlements, as it did when it evacuated the Sinai and handed the territory back to Egypt.

"When we dismantled the settlements in Yamit [in the Sinai], I thought it was a mistake," he said. "Why destroy a house if you evacuate it? Leave it to the people. I do not look on the Palestinians as our enemies. I look on the Palestinians as our neighbors. And, if I would be a neighbor, that is the way I would behave."

Mr. Peres' comments at a news conference in Jerusalem were clearly aimed at influencing the future strategy of the prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon was the defense minister at the time of Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai and he ordered the destruction of Jewish settlement buildings to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Egyptians.

Last week, Mr. Sharon announced he wanted to start dismantling Jewish settlements in Gaza, adding that in the future he envisaged not one Jew would remain in the territory.

Mr. Peres, who is the head of the Labor Party, says if Mr. Sharon goes ahead with the move he will have the party's support.

During his address to foreign correspondents, he also appealed to the United States and Europe to encourage Israel and the Palestinians to make peace.

He said that after a final peace agreement is reached, Israel and a Palestinian state could become members of the European Union.

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