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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 08:41 GMT
Israel orders outpost evacuation
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon has been hinting at possible unilateral steps
Israel's prime minister has signed orders to dismantle four unauthorised settlers' outposts in the West Bank.

Ariel Sharon used a new procedure for the first time which allows for rapid evacuation, Israeli TV reports.

Settlers have vowed to resist the removal of the posts peacefully, while others have accused Mr Sharon of planning to create new boundaries.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces killed three Palestinian militants near a Jewish settlement overnight.

OUTPOSTS TO BE EVACUATED
Ginot Arre near Ofra
Havat Shaqued inside Yitzhar
Magen David south of Hebron
Bat Ayin West between Bethlehem and Hebron

Oren Brund, secretary of the Ginnot Arieh outpost near Ofra, said families there would appeal to the High Court.

While there would be no violence, the settlers would be backed by thousands of people and would "not move", he was quoted as saying by AP news agency.

Reports suggest that Ginnot Arieh, with about 10 families, is the only inhabited outpost among the four.

In all, Israel is due to dismantle about 100 unauthorised settlements under the peace plan known as the roadmap.

'Disengagement'

In a keynote address on 18 December, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that Israel would take unilateral steps unless there was progress on the roadmap.

These would include the dismantling of settler outposts and accelerating the building of the controversial security barrier in the West Bank, he said.

JEWISH SETTLEMENTS
400,000 Israelis live in 150 settlements in West Bank
7,000 Israelis live in 16 settlements in the Gaza Strip
80% of settlers in West Bank live close to Israel's border
Most settlements have fewer than 1,000 citizens

A senior source in Mr Sharon's office, who was quoted by Reuters news agency, said the government was looking at "a new line of redeployment which includes the relocation of settlements and redeployment of army camps and installations in the eventuality that the roadmap fails".

On Sunday, Mr Sharon appointed a new security adviser to head the team tasked with the possible redeployment.

Giora Eiland, a prominent military officer, is being given a task force with representatives from the defence, foreign and justice ministries as well as the military and security services, a government statement said.

Israel's move towards unilateral action has been widely criticised by both US and Palestinian leaders.

Washington would "oppose any unilateral steps that block the road towards negotiations under the roadmap that leads to the two-state vision", said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

"A settlement must be negotiated and we would oppose any Israeli effort to impose a settlement," he added.

Shooting

The leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told Palestinian radio that the appointment of Mr Eiland showed Israel was "escalating the implementation of unilateral steps".

Both the Israeli military and Palestinian police have confirmed that three Palestinian militants were killed in Sunday evening's clash near the settlement of Netzarim, south-west of Gaza City.

The Israeli army said the three had been firing mortars at the isolated settlement.

They were killed by tank fire, the army said.


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