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Israel, Egypt, US Plan Conference on Gaza Withdrawal - 2004-07-22

Israeli officials confirmed Thursday that they are working with their counterparts from Egypt and the United States to hold a conference on Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Top Palestinian officials also say they are aware of the initiative, and want to attend the forum. Israeli officials said on Thursday the proposed conference would concentrate on how to prepare the region for the transition to a new reality after an Israeli pullout from Gaza.

This would include how to ensure the proper running of the Gaza Strip under the Palestinian Authority, and to prevent Palestinian armed groups continuing to use the territory as a base to launch more attacks against Israel.

Egypt, which borders the Gaza Strip, is also believed to be concerned about preventing violence from spilling over from Gaza into Egypt.

A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, told reporters that Washington supports the idea of a multi-party conference, which was first proposed by Egypt.

An advisor to the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, says one idea is for the forum to be held in October in New York at the level of foreign ministers.

Egyptian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they would prefer to host the forum in Cairo.

Palestinian Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erekat says that the Palestinian Authority has also been approached about the idea.

Mr. Erekat says the Palestinian leadership welcomes the proposed conference, and would like to participate.

The initiative follows a decision by the Israeli Cabinet to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank by September, 2005.