Sharon defends evacuation plan before Knesset

April 23, 2004|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon went before parliament yesterday to defend his proposal to evacuate 25 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as one poll indicated a narrowing lead in support of the plan among Likud Party members, who vote on it May 2.

In his speech to the Knesset, Sharon warned fellow Likud members that voting down the unilateral withdrawal would jeopardize new U.S. backing for two important Israeli positions: retaining the largest West Bank settlement blocs and rejecting the claims of Palestinians who want to return to ancestral homes in Israel.

"The agreement reached between the U.S. president and me is a comprehensive agreement. Whoever thinks that he can pick and choose whatever is comfortable for him and not fulfill other things, let me clarify: Then this agreement will not go into effect," Sharon said.

Sharon said in his speech that he would seek Cabinet and Knesset approval of the proposal even if it lost among his party's rank-and-file members. He earlier had said he would abide by the results of the Likud vote.

The speech came as Israeli troops were concluding military operations in Gaza that left three Palestinian children dead.

In the village of Beit Lahiya, a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot by Israeli soldiers as he and other youths threw stones. A 7-year-old girl died of a gunshot wound and a 5-year-old girl died after inhaling tear gas, medical officials said.

In other developments, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat evicted 21 militants wanted by Israeli authorities from his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israel radio reported.

The expulsions appear to reflect Arafat's concern - after the assassinations of Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rantisi and his predecessor Sheik Ahmed Yassin - that he could be targeted next by Israel.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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