Israel could eventually relinquish more West Bank settlements, beyond the four to be dismantled in coming weeks, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suggested in an interview published Friday. But he reiterated that Israel would keep major settlement blocs in any peace deal.
The Israeli Defense Ministry, meanwhile, wants to complete the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank already by Sept. 4, rather than in mid-September, the original target date, security officials said. The forcible removal of settlers from their homes there is to begin next week.
The deadline was moved up even as military sources raised to 3,000 the number of people they estimate have entered Gaza settlements to bolster resistance.
"The settlement blocs will remain" in Israeli hands, Sharon told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, reiterating his oft-stated policy. "I never replied when asked what the boundaries of the settlements blocs are — and not because I'm not familiar with the map."
Asked whether Israel would eventually pull out of several small West Bank settlements, he replied: "Not everything will be there. The issue will be raised during the final status talks with the Palestinians," reports the AP.
Months of protests, road blockades and acts of sabotage have failed to keep Sharon from overcoming political and legal hurdles en route to removal of all 21 Gaza settlements under his plan for "disengaging" from conflict with Palestinians.
"I have no regrets," Sharon told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. "Even if I had known ahead of time the extent of resistance, I would have done it anyway."
Polls show a majority of Israelis favor quitting Gaza, where 8,500 Jews live isolated from 1.4 million Palestinians. But opponents say a withdrawal rewards a Palestinian uprising and betrays Jewish claims of a biblical birthright to the land.
The YESHA settlers’ council, which organized the anti-pullout rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, said tens of thousands of its supporters would break into small groups and try to infiltrate Gaza's main settlement bloc to obstruct security forces.
Israel's army shut Gaza settlements to non-residents on Thursday to try to prevent more rightists from reinforcing settlers vowing to resist eviction. Hundreds of radicals have made their way in with temporary visitor passes and have stayed, informs Reuters.