Source Pravda.Ru

Gaza pullout results wil determine Israel's next steps in peace process

The aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will decide Israel's next step in the peace negociations with the Palestinians, Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said in an interview with a Kuwaiti paper.

Shalom told the privately owned Al-Rai Al-Aam that Gaza will not become a "prison" for Palestinians and negotiations for safe passages were ongoing.

"It depends on how things go after the Gaza example and whether it will succeed, so that we don't move to another failure," Shalom told the newspaper.

The interview was conducted Wednesday at Shalom's office in Jerusalem, The AP reported.

"If Gaza turns into a base for shooting missiles at Israel and increasing Palestinian attacks, it will be impossible to move on to another step and take a new risk," he said.

For the second day, Israeli forces are forcibly removing settlers from settlements in Gaza. Eleven of the 21 settlements stood empty Thursday.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon proposed the withdrawal two years ago to ease Israel's security burden and help preserve Israel's Jewish character by placing Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians outside the country's boundaries.

Shalom said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has to "dismantle" Islamic militant groups Hamas and Jihad who attack Israel, and the "unilateral" pullout should prompt more steps towards peace.

"The Gaza Strip will not become a prison," Shalom said. It will be open to Egypt, and humanitarian missions and goods will be allowed to cross from the West Bank, he said.

Shalom said Israeli and Palestinian officials were negotiating safe passages, and "we have allowed the building of the Gaza seaport, but we cannot let Palestinians bring militants and weapons through the port from Iran and abroad."

No topics, including Jerusalem, were off-limits to peace negotiations with the Palestinians, the Israeli official said. However, confidence should be built before final status talks on Jerusalem - which Palestinians claim as the capital of their state - refugees, borders, and water, he said.

On disrupted peace talks with Syria, and whether Israel would be willing to give up the settlements in the Golan Heights as it did with Gaza, the foreign minister said: "Every party can come to the negotiation table with the topics they want, and we have to talk about everything."

Israel captured the heights from Syria in 1967, and Damascus wants the land returned in exchange for any peace deal.

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