US State Department welcomes withdrawal plan as 'real opportunity for progress'

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The Independent US

The US State Department led a chorus of approval for Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, yesterday, hailing the ratification of his Gaza withdrawal plan as "progress" and a "return to the political process".

Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman, said: "We think the withdrawal plan presents an opportunity to advance the interests of both sides." He also noted that the plan called for withdrawal from a limited number of settlements on the West Bank.

"Settlement activity is something that we are concerned about," he said. "America's belief ... [is] that the Gaza disengagement plan ... offers real opportunity for progress and a return to the political process." Tony Blair has described the Gaza pullout as the only plan on the table and the international community's chance to steer the bitterly divided Palestinian and Israeli sides back into the peace process. The Bush administration is hoping the removal of all 8,000 Jewish settlers and the Israeli troops in Gaza, along with a partial withdrawal on the West Bank, will be only the first step to a bigger pull-back and a Palestinian state on the land Israel relinquishes. Israeli opponents call the pull-out a one-sided move, while Palestinian critics fear it will bring an end to concessions rather than relaunch the road-map for peace.

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