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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK
Bush: Israel can respond to Iraq
Ariel Sharon and George W Bush
In public there was no sign of US pressure on Sharon
President George W Bush has said that he would expect Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to respond appropriately if Iraq launched a missile attack on his country.

If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the prime minister would respond

George W Bush
Mr Bush was speaking after a meeting with Mr Sharon at the White House, at which he had been expected to press for restraint from the Israeli leader.

For his part, Mr Sharon noted that Israel had never had a better friend in the White House than Mr Bush.

BBC Washington correspondent Jon Leyne points out that the president did not say if he would support an Israeli response, or indeed, exactly what the response might be.

We never had such co-operation in everything as we have with the current administration

Ariel Sharon

The president said the threat to Israel from Iraq showed why it was necessary for the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, to disarm.

Mr Bush also warned countries in the region from sheltering organisations such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which posed a threat to Israel.

Mid-East mission

Mr Sharon had, Mr Bush said, assured him he will turn over to the Palestinians tax revenues that had been withheld - as long as undertakings were given that the funds were not used to promote terror.

He also announced that Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was being despatched to the Middle East to work on concrete security and peacemaking moves.

US Mid East envoy William Burns
William Burns is expected to visit 12 countries in the Middle East
Ahead of the talks, US officials were reported to have said that ground rules for Israeli behaviour and action if the US strikes Iraq were expected to be agreed.

Mr Sharon was expected to come under pressure to show restraint in dealing with the Palestinians and not retaliate if his country comes under Iraqi missile attack.

The US was reported to be concerned that an upsurge in Palestinian-Israeli violence could hinder efforts to win allies in the Arab world for an attack on Iraq.

Outpost dismantled

Earlier in the day in the West Bank, the Israeli army said it had begun dismantling an unauthorised settler outpost in the West Bank.

Settlers at protest in the West Bank
Hundreds of settlers turned up to protest the dismantling of an unauthorised outpost
Hundreds of settlers had staged a protest at the hilltop site near Nablus to try to prevent the army's action.

The Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, has pledged to remove as many as 30 outposts, but the Palestinians have dismissed the campaign as a public relations stunt.

The Israeli Defence Ministry said on Wednesday it had begun removing mobile homes from the Havat Gilad site to prevent people staying overnight.

A spokesman told the BBC that the settlers would be free to return by day to farm the surrounding land.

Earlier, settlers claimed they had won concessions from the government and that the site would not be dismantled.

However the spokesman said there had been no official deal to end the stand-off.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are considered illegal under international law.

Israel considers only the outposts not authorised by the government to be illegal.

The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"America is annoyed over Israels recent military heavy handedness"

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See also:

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