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Israel to Evacuate Illegal Jewish Outposts Before US Vote - 2004-08-08

The Israeli government says it plans to evacuate illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank before the U.S. presidential election in November, following American pressure to halt settlement activity.

Officials in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon say they are looking for new legal powers to ensure the removal of all illegal Jewish outposts before the American presidential election.

The outposts are intended by Jewish settlers to become the basis of new communities, or to expand existing ones. But the international "road map" to peace plan, which is supported by the United States, calls for a freeze on settlement activity.

While Israel has not accepted a total freeze, its justice minister, Yosev Lapid, says the growth of Jewish settlements must be kept in check.

"I think that, in general, we should not expand the borders of the settlements," he said. "We are in agreement on this with the United States government."

The officials say the basis for Israel's future strategy is a report being prepared by the Justice Ministry to allow for a speedy evacuation of the outposts.

Mr. Sharon's outgoing bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, told Israel's Channel Two television station that the recommendations of the report will be presented in the coming weeks.

Mr. Weisglass says the report will provide the prime minister with, in his words, more effective tools to evacuate the outposts, and he will begin to do so energetically.

He says that while Israel cannot so far boast of efforts to remove the settlement outposts, it will carry out its promise to evacuate all of them in full.

Mr. Weisglass is due to leave for the United States later this month for a meeting with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to discuss a range of issues, including the Jewish settlements and Israel's controversial West Bank security barrier.

The Israeli Defense Ministry says Jewish settlers have established 23 outposts in the West Bank since March 2001, when Mr. Sharon first came to power.

Visiting U.S. envoy Elliot Abrams raised the issue when he met with senior Israeli officials last week.