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UN Mideast Envoy Welcomes Sharon Gaza Withdrawal Plan - 2004-02-18

The top U.N. Middle East envoy has welcomed Israel's plan to withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip. But, the envoy cautioned that a unilateral pullout - without Palestinian and international cooperation - would be counter-productive.

U.N. Middle East Coordinator Terje Roed-Larsen says the Israeli offer to withdraw 7,500 settlers from Gaza could revive stalled peace talks. Briefing the Security Council Wednesday, Mr. Roed-Larsen noted that Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and others have responded positively to the move.

But the envoy warned that any pullout is doomed to failure unless it has Palestinian and international support.

“Making such a withdrawal in a strictly unilateral way is impossible,” he said. “It has to be done in close cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and it has to be done in close cooperation with the international community, including the United Nations.”

Mr. Roed-Larsen told the Security Council any withdrawal must be negotiated. He mentioned as a precedent Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, which was negotiated by the United Nations.

After the briefing, Washington's U.N. envoy John Negroponte said the Bush administration still prefers the "road map" peace proposal jointly sponsored by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

“It's hard to criticize any kind of withdrawal, but we reaffirmed our support in the meeting today for "road map" as the best way to achieve a lasting peaceful settlement of the Middle East peace question,” he said.

The comments came as three senior U.S. envoys arrived in Israel for a briefing from Prime Minister Sharon on the withdrawal plan. Mr. Sharon was reported to be trying to ease U.S. fears that unilateral Israeli actions would undermine the road map, which calls for a series of parallel and reciprocal steps leading to a two state solution - Israel and Palestine - by next year.