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Qurei calls for `deeds, not words'

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA, FEB. 5. The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon's surprise announcement on Monday of his intent to dismantle key Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip has been met with considerable scepticism and suspicion in the region.

The plan envisages relocation of around 7,000 Jewish settlers from 17 settlements in Gaza to Israel, and from another three enclaves in the West Bank.

Some Palestinian leaders have welcomed the move, but have said that they would be satisfied only with the termination of Israeli occupation of all Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, told Voice of Palestine radio station that Mr. Sharon's announcement was "good news". He, however said, "We hope that Israel will withdraw from all Palestinian areas".

Calling for "deeds, not words," he pointed out that any Gaza pullout should be followed by a similar withdrawal from the West Bank. "Then, there will be a real peace. Otherwise, the situation will remain as is."

The Palestinian armed groups say that Mr. Sharon's move will not alter their strategies of achieving an end to Israeli occupation through armed struggle.

Interviewed over the Arabic-language satellite channel, Al Jazeera, from Ramallah, Nabil Abu Rudeina, adviser to the Palestinian Authority President, Yasser Arafat, stressed the importance of the Intifada (armed uprising) for achieving political goals.

He said that, "The Intifada is winning, either with these declarations or without them. The Intifada is the only way that might lead to peace." Sameer Mashrawi of the Fatah faction who was also interviewed on the same channel said, "The Intifada has won out against the butcher's knife and the occupying army's arrogance".

The thinking among some of the key Palestinian organisations, such as the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — which is loosely affiliated with Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction — is that sustained armed struggle can push back Israel occupation.

Analysts point out that Palestinian groups have drawn inspiration from the Lebanon based Shia group, Hizbullah whose relentless military pressure ended Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. Palestinian groups see the Hizbullah's recent success in obtaining the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners as yet another instance that vindicates these tactics.

Many Palestinians are suspicious of Mr. Sharon's intentions. Comments in sections of the Arab media also advise caution in dealing with Mr. Sharon's announcement. An editorial in the Dubai-based daily Gulf News, said, "The Palestinian leadership should look long and hard at what Sharon is offering and the circumstances surrounding it. When Sharon offers anything, be sure he is about to take something as well."

The Israeli daily Haaretz, in one of its commentaries pointed out that the Gaza plan was only one part of the story. According to the article, faced with mounting international pressure, Mr. Sharon is looking for a trade-off. "Sharon is prepared to pay with the evacuation of Gaza for American consent to Israel's continued control over a large part of the West Bank." Not surprisingly, the announcement has come shortly before Mr. Sharon's proposed visit to Washington this month.

The daily points out that many Israeli Prime Ministers in the past have given up territory in areas of lesser strategic importance in order to ensure Israeli hold over either the West Bank or other areas that were considered militarily as vital.

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