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ARAB-US RELATIONS - Jun 19 - Gaza Settler Homes To Be Razed.

US State Sec Condoleezza Rice announces the Gaza homes of Jewish settlers will be demolished once they leave. Rice made the announcement in Jerusalem after meeting Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. She said Israel and the PA had also agreed to co-operate to ensure the withdrawal would proceed peacefully, calling it a historic step toward resolving the Middle East conflict. "Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree that the settler homes in Gaza should be removed", Rice told a news conference. "Therefore the parties will work toward a plan for destruction and cleanup". Palestinian officials have said they prefer the tile-roofed homes, built on occupied land in 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza, be demolished so that high-rise housing can be built in the crowded coastal strip, home to 1.3m Palestinians. "It was their choice. If they wanted them, they could have had them", Israeli FM spokesman Mark Regev said. Palestinian officials said rubble from the settlements, whose evacuation is due to begin in mid-August, could eventually be used to build a seaport for Gaza. An Israeli official said it would take three to four weeks to complete the pullout and troops would then immediately raze the houses.

He said the Palestinians had agreed to clear the debris in a project that would generate jobs in Gaza. During Rice's two-day visit, which included talks with Palestinian Pres Mahmoud Abbas, she called on both sides to agree on specifics about how to carry out the withdrawal, saying time was running out. At news conference, Rice said Israel and the PA recognised the withdrawal "must proceed peacefully and without violence" directed toward settlers and soldiers. Hours after Rice's announcement, Israel said it would seek tender offers to build 700 new homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank, drawing a rapid rebuke from the secretary of state. The announcement incited fury from the Palestinians, who accused Israel of trying to change the face of Jerusalem. "At the end of the year we are going to put to tender contracts to build 300 homes in the settlement of Maale Adumim and 400 homes in Beitar Eilit", a spokesman for Israel's Housing Ministry said. Housing "Minister Yitzhak Herzog has approved the construction because there is a consensus in Israel to hold on to these two settlements in the future", said spokesman Kobi Bleich. Arriving in Jordan on the third leg of her Middle East swing, Rice betrayed her irritation over the settlements as well as the West Bank wall which Israel is erecting to the anger of the Palestinians. "I discussed both the issue of the settlements and the wall with the PM, with the FM and with anybody else who would listen", she told a news conference. "The fact is that the US has a very clear policy on this and we don't expect to see any activity from the Israelis that try and prejudge a final status agreement".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:484
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