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Sharon:  Israel May Soon Remove Some West Bank Settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says his government may soon unilaterally evacuate some Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Sharon says such a step could take place if there is no breakthrough in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon for the first time spoke of removing Jewish settlements in the West Bank "to improve Israel's overall security situation."

He said that he remains committed to the international "road map" peace plan, which calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

But in the short-term, he says, his government may take some unilateral steps, including uprooting some Jewish communities in the West Bank and relocating them inside Israel.

Mr. Sharon says the move could take place as part of what he called a complex, unilateral security and diplomatic plan, if peace talks with the Palestinians fail. He made the remarks Tuesday at a meeting of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee.

The head of the committee, Yuval Steinitz, a member of Mr. Sharon's Likud Party, backed the prime minister's position. He says that, if negotiations fail, then Israel may be forced to replace the road map with its own vision of peace.

"If it will be clear that there is no partner evolving from the Palestinian Authority, then in the future we will have to reframe reality unilaterally and to drop the road map," he said.

Other members of Mr. Sharon's coalition strongly oppose his plan.

The leader of the National Religious Party, Shaul Yahalom, warned his faction will leave the government if settlements are evacuated.

"We oppose any unilateral withdrawal and expelling any settlements," he said. "If it happens we cannot be a partner in the government."

Other right-wing parties, including the National Union faction, demanded an urgent meeting with Mr. Sharon, saying he must make clear exactly what steps he plans to take.

Mr. Sharon, for decades a key architect of Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, indicated on Monday, he would explain more of his plan in a speech next week.