Israel to dismantle 24 of its illegal West Bank outposts

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The Independent Online

The Israeli cabinet has voted to dismantle 24 illegal West Bank settlement outposts and to withhold government help from right-wing activists trying to establish new ones.

The Israeli cabinet has voted to dismantle 24 illegal West Bank settlement outposts and to withhold government help from right-wing activists trying to establish new ones.

The Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said he was committed to removing outposts founded since he took office four years ago. But, on the recommendation of the chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya'alon, the government postponed their evacuation until after the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, due in July.

The security services preferred to keep their powder dry for the bigger confrontation with the settlers and their allies, who are determined to resist both pullouts. Ra'anan Gissin, Mr Sharon's spokesman, said: "You can't do both at the same time. Removing the outposts now would take away forces needed for the disengagement. That would give the settlers the chance to do exactly what they want, to delay the disengagement as much as possible."

Ministers also voted overwhelmingly to adopt the principles of a devastating report, which detailed government complicity in the creation of at least 105 supposedly "unauthorised" outposts. Eventually, Mr Gissin said, all of them would go.

The study, by Talia Sasson, a former senior prosecutor, highlighted the so-called "nod-and-wink" policy of governments which condemned the outposts, but surreptitiously funded their construction to the tune of millions of shekels and supplied them with caravans, roads, electricity and water.

The cabinet appointed a committee to recommend how to supervise budgets, planning and construction of settlements. "For the first time," Mr Gissin said, "a government has taken on itself to deal with violations of law practised for over 30 years. Everything that is illegal will be corrected."

The committee is chaired by Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister, a Likud supporter of the disengagement plan. "We want to prevent a situation in which the government wakes up and finds a mobile home on a hilltop, which it may have funded," she said. Shaul Mofaz, the Defence Minister, decided on Friday to reduce the period of the Gaza pullout from 12 weeks to four to minimise the risk of violence. A further 3,000 troops have been added to the 5,000 soldiers and policemen already being trained for the evacuation.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, arrived in Jerusalem last night and went straight into talks with Mr Sharon. He is expected to press Mr Sharon and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to fulfill their commitments under the road map for peace. He will be among more than 30 international leaders at the opening of a £30m Holocaust museum.

Ephraim Sneh, a former minister and retired general, asked about a Sunday Times report that Israel was planning to destroy Iran's nuclear reactor, said such action would be a "last resort".

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