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Sharon Presses Ahead with Disengagement Plan - 2004-06-13

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he has ordered officials to immediately begin preparing for disengagement from some Palestinian areas.

Mr. Sharon told his cabinet, the government is preparing the way for the implementation of his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank. He said he had given orders to the chairmen of the various committees in charge of carrying out the plan to begin their work.

Mr. Sharon also repeated his pledge to have all Israeli settlements removed from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005, despite his coalition losing its majority in the parliament.

The prime minister won approval for the plan at a cabinet meeting a week ago, but this led to two government ministers resigning in protest, and reducing his coalition to a minority of 59 in the 120-member Knesset. The opposition Labor Party is enabling Mr. Sharon to stay in power, at least for now.

In the coming months, Mr. Sharon is expected to negotiate with Labor and other parties to forge a new national unity government, in the hope of ensuring his disengagement plan will be passed in the parliament.

Under the plan, Israel would continue to control the air space and the sea around Gaza, and would also patrol the Gaza-Egypt border.

For this reason, a top Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said his organization would continue its attacks.

"If they are going to be on the border between Gaza Strip and Egypt, this means a partial occupation," he said. "So, Hamas will continue the resistance to the existence of the occupation of any square meter."

Hamas is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, and has carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed many Israelis.

Despite its promise to continue such attacks, Hamas officials also confirmed they would be willing to talk with Egyptian officials about the future security of Gaza.

Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, says teams of Israeli and Egyptian officials would meet soon to discuss how to maintain security in Gaza after an Israeli pull-out.