Sharon may postpone Gaza withdrawal

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, is for the first time considering a three-week delay to his plan to disengage from Gaza in a move designed to minimise conflict with religious settlers among the 8,000 facing evacuation.

Yonatan Bassi, appointed by Mr Sharon to head the agency responsible for compensating and relocating the Jewish settlers, has urged the government to postpone the date by which compulsory evacuation would start, from July to mid-August.

After what he described as "an internal struggle and talking to rabbis", Mr Bassi is suggesting that the resistance to the planned evacuation may be lessened if it takes place after Tisha B'Av, the day in the Jewish calendar which marks the destruction of the two biblical temples. The date, which is preceded for observant Jews by a three- week mourning period, falls on 14 August this year.

The Prime Minister told reporters yesterday that he would discuss the proposal with senior ministers today and said: "We have to take every step to make it easier for the settlers." Mr Sharon, who during his visit to Washington last week compared the atmosphere in Israel to the "eve of a civil war", added: "These are difficult days today."

The putative move, designed to help pacify some settler opponents of the plan, was under consideration as the Israel Land Authority confirmed plans to build another 50 homes in a West Bank settlement in apparent defiance of President George Bush's strictures against settlement expansion last week. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the US would be seeking clarification from the Israeli government. The senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, also denounced the move, planned for the settlement of Elkana near Qalkilya. Mr McClellan pointed out that the road map to peace "has obligations for both parties. Israel should not be expanding settlements. And the Palestinian leaders need to act to dismantle terrorist organisations."Mr Sharon has previously rejected a request from the military for more time to plan the logistics of dismantling all 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank. But he appears more favourably inclined to the view of Mr Bassi, himself an observant Jew, that it would be inappropriate to evacuate settlers during the mourning period.

Although the prominent settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein claimed the army had told Mr Sharon months ago that the timeline was problematic, especially for the Gaza settlers, he depicted himself as unimpressed by the prospect of a delay. "Maybe Tisha B'Av is appropriate," Mr Wallerstein told Army Radio: "If you want to bring destruction on the nation of Israel maybe it is appropriate to do it on a date known for destruction. The date doesn't matter to us. Our goal is to prevent the withdrawal."

The move could also have an impact on internal debate within the Palestinian Authority over whether to delay the legislative council elections, planned for 17 July. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said the elections will take place on time, but his deputy, Nabil Sha'ath, suggested at the weekend that they might be delayed.

In a fresh strain on the ceasefire called by both sides in February, the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for shooting and wounding an Israeli soldier and civilian close to Gaza's border with Egypt yesterday and said it was in retaliation for the shooting dead of three unarmed teenage boys by Israeli troops close to the border fence last week.

Haaretz reported that a military investigation had already disclosed that the soldiers had "shot to kill" the boys - who locals said had been playing football - and not as previously said, aimed at their legs to wound them. The newspaper quoted a military source as saying "there was no justification" for the soldiers behaving as though the boys had been an "armed cell". The army said the investigation was still going on.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago