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Palestinians Say Gaza Withdrawal a Challenge and Opportunity


Palestinian officials say many details must be worked out in the coming days if Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip is to advance the cause of peace. A leading Palestinian official told U.S. television his people need help from those who want the peace process to succeed.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Gaza presents a challenge for his government. He says lawlessness and extremism in the region must be brought under control and the Palestinian Authority must create conditions where democracy can flourish.

Speaking on U.S. television he said the Israeli disengagement is taking place outside the peace process. But he says it provides an opportunity the Palestinians cannot afford to miss.

"Every effort is being exacted at this moment to seize the opportunity of Gaza disengagement in order to revive probably in the minds of Palestinians that the peace process will continue, we will get our freedom and independence through negotiations, peaceful means, [and] void of violence," he said.

During his appearance on CNN's Late Edition program, Mr. Erekat said Palestinian leaders know they will need outside help to ensure that the day after the Israelis pull out, local leaders are ready to assume control of basic services, including security.

"…and at the end of the day, the more help we get from the international community, the more cooperation and coordination we get from the Israelis, the more chances we have to pass this critical juncture very successfully," added Mr. Erekat.

Israeli leaders say they are waiting to see if the Palestinians are able to turn their words into positive deeds. Housing Minister Isaac Herzog told CNN that Israel wants be sure the extremist organization Hamas will not gain control of Gaza and turn it into a terrorist hub.

"If we can be reassured that Gaza will not turn into Hamastan [an area ruled by Hamas] and will not turn into a base of terror thereafter, this will make things much easier and much safer for all of us," he said.

He spoke just hours after the Israeli cabinet approved the first stage of the Gaza pullout and Finance Minister and Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned in protest. Mr. Herzog said the resignation will not stop the disengagement from Gaza, and added he though Mr. Netanyahu quit because he wants to challenge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the leadership of the Likud Party.