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Middle East Update - 2002-10-16

President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have met at the White House on the Middle East situation and the threat posed by Iraq. After their talks Mr. Bush said he and Prime Minister Sharon share a vision of Israel and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace. The president also said U-S Mideast peace envoy William Burns will soon go back to the region. Prime Minister Sharon said he hopes the day will come soon when peace talks with Palestinians can resume. Until then, Mr. Sharon said Israel will continue to defend itself. On Iraq, Mr. Bush said there would be an appropriate response if Israel is attacked by Iraq.

VOA TV’s Deborah Block has more.

The meeting comes at a time when the United States is urging Israel to ease restrictions on the Palestinians. Israel recently announced it will release about 400-million dollars in tax revenues it has withheld from the Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says plans are underway to withdraw troops from Palestinian sections of the West Bank City of Hebron. He also says Israel has lifted curfews in other West Bank cities.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Jewish settlers gathered at two illegal outposts in the West Bank to oppose Israel’s plan to dismantle them. Settlers at the Havat Gilad settlement threw stones, carried assault rifles, and scuffled with reporters smashing their vehicles. They blocked a dirt road to the settlement’s remote hilltop with large rocks and cars to stop Israeli troops and police.

“The army of Israel takes the Jewish (people) from the house of Israel. (It) cannot be worse than this.”

Leaders of a powerful settler lobby tried to persuade Israel’s defense minister Ben-Eliezer to call off the move, but urged protesters to resist if troops tried to dismantle the settlement. The defense minister has vowed to carry out up to 30 similar evacuations. Deborah Block, VOA TV.