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Israeli Officials Meet Settlers on Dismantling Illegal Outposts - 2003-12-07

Top Israeli officials met Sunday with Jewish settler leaders to prepare for the dismantling this week of 16 illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank. The move follows strong pressure on Israel from the United States to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the territories.

Israeli officials say Israeli troops have been ordered to evacuate 16 Jewish outposts in the West Bank that were built without government approval.

In order to prepare for the dismantling of the outposts, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met Sunday with leaders of the Yesha Council, which represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The organization strongly opposes the plan.

Yesha Council chairman Benzi Lieberman told Israel radio before the talks that, instead of dismantling the outposts, the Israeli Cabinet should continue the policy of previous governments, and grant legal status to the outposts.

He called on the government to reject pressure from the U.S. administration.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have reportedly said that Israel cannot justify delaying the evacuation of Jewish outposts by claiming the Palestinian leadership must first combat terrorism.

Israeli media reported Sunday that the American officials had said Israel must freeze settlement activity, despite the lack of progress on the international road map to peace plan.

The plan, which is backed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

In the first phase of the plan, Israel is required to block any expansion of Jewish settlement activity.