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Sharon Proposes Taking Palestinian Land - 2002-01-14

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed taking Palestinian land in the southern Gaza Strip to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Sharon says that Israel has the right to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent arms from getting into the Palestinian territories.

He said Israel's recent seizure of a shipment of 50 tons of weapons meant for the Palestinians is only one example of the smuggling campaign that is underway. "A major effort has been done by the Palestinian Authority to smuggle weapons and that is across all our borders," he said.

Mr. Sharon says that the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip had become one area of arms trafficking.

He said it was to prevent such trafficking that the Israeli Army last week destroyed Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The camp is located close to the Egyptian border. Only a narrow security corridor, manned by Israeli forces, separates the camp from Egypt.

Mr. Sharon says that the houses had been used to conceal tunnels and to provide shelter for Palestinian snipers. "In Rafah, the system there is to smuggle through tunnels and these tunnels are deep now, sometimes 18 meters and we have to take all the necessary steps and Israel will take all the necessary steps to stop that smuggle of weapons," he said.

Mr. Sharon says that he wants to discuss possible solutions with the Palestinians, including an expanded Israeli military zone in the southern Gaza Strip. He says that his government would be willing to pay compensation for any land it might have to seize for this purpose. "No doubt ... that narrow corridor does not allow us to stop [the smuggling]," said Ariel Sharon. "So it maybe it should be a more basic and serious solution there. Maybe by [taking] some land there and to pay for it and to enable to have there a wider corridor, in order to stop the smuggling."

Mr. Sharon says that as a result of the arms smuggling, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians alike have been made to suffer.

He says that the recent criticism of his government for demolishing homes in Rafah, in an effort to stop the smuggling, had been misdirected.

Mr. Sharon says that complaints should have been made to the Palestinian Authority, which he says had been behind the arms smuggling operations and forced Israel to take drastic actions to defend itself.