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Israel Accelerates Gaza, West Bank Settler Evacuation - 2004-08-04


Israel announced Wednesday it will speed up its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The decision comes even as troops widen operations in Gaza to prevent the firing of more rockets into Israel.

The head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, says a unilateral disengagement from Gaza and some areas of the West Bank will be completed by September 2005.

He says all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank will be evacuated by that date.

He says efforts will be made to enable families who wish to leave the settlements voluntarily to do so earlier.

Mr. Eiland, who was appointed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to carry out the disengagement plan, outlined the timetable Wednesday in a briefing to the Israeli parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defense.

At the same time, Israeli troops expanded their operations in the northern Gaza Strip, taking up positions outside the Jabaliya Palestinian refugee camp.

An Israeli military helicopter providing cover for the troops fired a missile as a warning to Palestinian militants in the camp to keep their distance. The missile wounded at least three residents.

The move toward the camp marked a widening of an operation that began in the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun, also in northern Gaza.

The Israeli army says the operation is in response to the continued firing of homemade rockets from northern Gaza into Israel.

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