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Erekat voices optimism over Sharon-Qureia summit

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    Last Update: 01/12/2003 11:02 Erekat voices optimism over Sharon-Qureia summit http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/366512.html By Gideon Alon and Aluf
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      Last Update: 01/12/2003 11:02

      Erekat voices optimism over Sharon-Qureia summit
      By Gideon Alon and Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondents

      As U.S. envoy William Burns met with Defense
      Minister Shaul Mofaz in an effort to spur revival
      of the Middle East peace process, Palestinian
      cabinet minister and peace negotiator Saeb Erekat
      voiced optimism Monday over an upcoming meeting
      between the Israeli and Palestinian prime

      Mofaz was to present Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs Burns with the
      goodwill gestures Israel is planning to make toward the Palestinians, as well as a plan to dismantle
      10 illegal settlement outposts in the upcoming days, at a meeting held between the two on Monday
      morning, Army Radio reported.

      A military source told Haaretz that evacuation of some of the West Bank outposts would begin during
      the coming weekend.

      Erekat met Sunday with Prime Minister Ariel
      Sharon's bureau chief Dov Weisglass to prepare
      the expected Sharon-Ahmed Qureia summit, which
      would represent one of the most tangibke
      expressions in months of a return to diplomatic

      At the weekend, Qureia appeared to be demanding
      that Israel halt construction of the West Bank
      fence as a pre-condition to talks between the

      But Erekat indicated that the talks could go on,
      despite Israel's public rejection of the
      Palestinian demand.

      "The most important thing now is to ensure that
      we will prepare the ground on a very technical,
      very professional level, in order to ensure the
      success of the meeting," Erekat said.

      "We are determined to do that, and this
      determination was also reflected from the
      Israeli side yesterday."

      According to Israel Radio, the illegal outposts
      to be dismantled include Ma'aleh Shlomo, south
      of the Jewish settlement of Karmey Tzur, north
      of Hebron, a bus near Karmey Tzur, a shipping
      container near Beit Haggai, south of the Gush
      Etzion settlement bloc, an abandoned building
      near Na'aleh, northeast of Modi'in, and a
      structure near the settlement of Kiryat Sefer,
      also near Modi'in.

      Five of the said outposts consist of only
      structures, and the sixth one is currently
      inhabited by foreign workers who were recently
      housed on the site, near an inhabited Jewish

      The Central Command will convey evacuation
      instructions to regional brigades, who will in
      turn prepare plans to remove the illegal
      outposts under their jurisdiction.

      The IDF says that since no settlers are
      currently living in the outposts, it is
      unlikely that large forces will be required for
      the operation. The IDF will also hold talks
      with the Yesha settlers' council in an effort
      to convince settlers to evacuate the unsettled
      outposts themselves. The Yesha council has done
      so in the past in several evacuation campaigns.

      The decision to evacuate was made amid heavy
      pressure from the United States government, but
      the current decision involves only a small
      percentage of outposts. Security sources have
      said that there are dozens of outposts that are
      completely illegal, which have undergone no
      legal registration procedure whatsoever.

      Burns, who arrived in the region on Sunday, told
      Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that Israel and
      the Palestinian Authority to follow the road
      map for Middle East peace plan, which
      specifically calls for Israel to remove illegal

      Lapid calls for more action to remove illegal
      Justice Minister Yosef Lapid on Sunday sharply
      criticizing Mofaz for the lack of progress in
      dismantling illegal settlement outposts in the
      West Bank.

      "I have been hearing for several weeks now
      promises that the outposts will be evacuated,
      but nothing happens," Lapid said. "I hope that
      the Israel Defense Forces are more efficient in
      other areas. We are losing the battle for world
      public opinion, there is even a rift between us
      and the United States."

      The justice minister added that "It is possible
      to ease the blockades on the Palestinian cities
      and reduce the number of roadblocks so that the
      world does not see Palestinian women dragging
      their babies through the dirt."

      Mofaz said in response that 43 illegal outposts
      have already been removed and that this policy
      will continue. He said that the army is
      removing roadblocks where possible without
      putting themselves in danger.

      Defence minister Shaul Mofaz (R) meeting U.S. envoy William Burns at his office in Tel Aviv on
      Monday. (Reuters)

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