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Israel Vows to Keep Large Areas of West Bank


Israeli soldiers near site where army jeep drove over bomb outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz
Israel has vowed to retain control of vast areas of the West Bank. The declaration came as a Palestinian attack on Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip rattled the Mideast cease-fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed that Israel will hold on to large West Bank settlements in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.

"The major settlement blocs will be a part of Israel," Mr. Sharon told Israel Radio in an interview before the Passover holiday. He said hundreds of homes are being built in these settlements with the aim of attaching them to Israel.

Mr. Sharon's remarks come just 10 days after he received a sharp face-to-face rebuke from President Bush, who told him that settlement expansion violates the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan.

"We hope that Prime Minister Sharon will heed President Bush's call to have a full cessation of settlement activities," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

A Palestinian attack on an Israeli border patrol in the Gaza Strip put further strain on the peace process and the fragile two-and-a-half-month old cease-fire. The army said Palestinian militants detonated a roadside bomb, wounding one soldier.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told VOA that the Palestinians are not keeping their commitments under the "road map."

"I think there has been a very clear message from U.S. leaders, from European leaders, from Russian leaders, from everyone, that it is incumbent upon the Palestinian Authority to start a process of disarming those violent terrorist groups who want to torpedo any chance of moving forward," he said.

Israel is also concerned about terrorism from Syria. In his interview, Prime Minister Sharon warned that Russia's plan to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Syria is a danger to Israel and a threat to regional stability.

Israel is concerned, Mr. Sharon said, that shoulder fired missiles could wind up in the hands of terrorist organizations. He said he will bring up the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will visit Israel next week.

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