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US Diplomats Press Sharon for More Details on Gaza Withdrawal - 2004-03-12


Visiting U.S. diplomats have pressed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for more details of his proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The talks on Thursday came as Mr. Sharon's top security advisors recommended that he also dismantle up to 24 Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Senior U.S. officials met with Mr. Sharon at his offices in Jerusalem for more than three hours late Thursday and more talks are expected on Friday.

The U.S. team visiting Israel, for the second time in less than a month, includes Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Deputy Director of the National Security Council Stephen Hadley and Elliot Abrams, a Middle East expert on the council.

Their visit came as Mr. Sharon was presented with recommendations from Israel's National Security Council on a possible unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

These proposals are meant to be considered only if peace talks with the Palestinians under the international road map to peace plan remain frozen.

In such an event, the unilateral plan by the Israeli council calls for Israel to withdraw from virtually all of the Gaza Strip and to remove as many as 24 Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The council recommended that all but three of the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza be dismantled.

The council also suggests that Jewish settlements left behind in Gaza not be demolished.

At the same time, the council says that Israel should maintain a military presence in the territory between Gaza and Egypt.

This proposal calls for Israeli soldiers to patrol a buffer zone along the border to prevent Palestinians smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza.

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