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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 22:10 GMT

World: Middle East

West Bank withdrawal postponed

Israeli soldiers were to begin withdrawals this week from the West Bank

The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has said he will postpone further withdrawals of Israeli forces from the West Bank until Palestinian leaders abandon plans to set up an independent state next year.

Middle East
Speaking in the Israeli parliament, which began a two day debate on the agreement, Mr Netanyahu also insisted that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat retract a warning that Palestinians were ready to take up arms in a renewed Intifada.

BBC's Paul Adams: "Each side accuses the other"
"I do not intend to implement any withdrawal under these circumstances," the prime minister said.

But Mr Arafat insisted he remained committed to the peace process. "Peace to us is a strategic choice and we will not shift course," he said.

"As we ask the Israeli government to count on us on the full implementation of the Wye River memorandum, we hope that the Israeli government will do the same."

'Delaying tactics'

[ image: Yasser Arafat is seeking an independent Palestinian state]
Yasser Arafat is seeking an independent Palestinian state
Senior Palestinian negotiators say Mr Arafat's comments have been misinterpreted.

In an interview with the BBC Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Mr Netanyahu's statement was "another flimsy excuse" which she said was part of "a consistent policy" of delaying tactics.

Under the accord, signed in Washington last month, Israel is to withdraw from a further 13% of West Bank territory.

Palestinian legislator Hannan Ashrawi: "This is just another flimsy excuse"
Mr Netanyahu said that his cabinet would review the suspension of withdrawals on Wednesday. The release of Palestinian prisoners and plans to open an airport in Gaza are also on hold.

His decision comes days after the Israeli cabinet narrowly voted to approve the deal and just hours after Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed that the withdrawal would start on Monday.

Land seized

[ image: Mr Natanyahu was frequently heckled by left wingers]
Mr Natanyahu was frequently heckled by left wingers
But Palestinians are angry at what they say is a challenge to the "unilateral action" clause by Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon.

He has called for Jewish settlers to take more land in the West Bank before the troop withdrawal.

"Everyone should take action, should run, should grab more hills," he said

Lyse Doucet on Mr Sharon's speech: "It seemed to be a clarion call to Jewish settlers"
"We'll expand the area. Whatever is seized will be ours. Whatever isn't seized will end up in their hands."

In the West Bank itself a group of 30 Jewish settlers are reported to have set up two mobile homes on a remote hill west of the Jewish settlement of Kedumim, saying their actions were in direct response to Mr Sharon's call.

Before becoming Foreign Minister Mr Sharon was long regarded as the champion of Jewish settlements.

He is leading the Israeli delegation in negotiations over the final status of the occupied territories, due to start within days.

Palestinian spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said Mr Sharon's remarks were dangerous and warned they would lead to an "explosion".

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