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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Sharon defers Palestinian state
Israeli soldier keeps watch over the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip
About 7,500 settlers live in isolated enclaves in the Gaza Strip
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said his plan for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip may delay the creation of a Palestinian state.

In interviews with the Israeli media, Mr Sharon said: "In the unilateral plan, there is no Palestinian state".

He confirmed that Israel would evacuate all of the 17 Jewish settlements in Gaza and gave more details about the unilateral disengagement plan.

He refused to guarantee the safety of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"Whoever kills Jews or orders Jews and Israeli citizens to be killed... is a marked man," Mr Sharon said, indicating that he was not bound to US suggestions not to take action to harm the Palestinian leader.

"I am not vouching for his physical safety," he said.

Mr Arafat said on Monday he would welcome an Israeli withdrawal, but reminded Mr Sharon that "he has to withdraw also... from the West Bank".

'Blow' to Palestinians

Mr Sharon was speaking in interviews for the Israeli media to coincide with the Jewish Passover holiday beginning on Monday.

Israel has banned all Palestinians from entering Israel as the security forces remain on high alert for the holiday season.

Ariel Sharon
In the unilateral plan, there is no Palestinian state
Ariel Sharon

During his three years in power, Mr Sharon has often preferred to speak in generalities to keep everybody guessing, but this time he is unusually specific, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem.

Other details of the plan included:

  • no Palestinian control over any ports;

  • Israeli control over a patrol road in the south of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt;

  • handing over the homes of more than 7,000 settlers to an international organisation, not destroying them.

Mr Sharon said the US administration wanted an indication of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank as well as from Gaza - hence the planned removal of four small settlements in the north of the West Bank.

"In my opinion, it would be best to disconnect from all the territory," Mr Sharon told Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

"In the unilateral plan, there is no Palestinian state. This situation could continue for many years," Mr Sharon said.

The prime minister told Maariv that his plan "will bring their [the Palestinians'] dreams to an end".

"When you fence areas and communities in the West Bank, you end a lot of their dreams," Mr Sharon said, referring to the controversial security barrier Israel is building.

"My plan is tough on the Palestinians. A mortal blow."

Mr Sharon has not said this in public before, our correspondent says, but it does confirm what most people in Israel have already guessed.

Fatal shooting

The Israeli army says three Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip were fired on because they had approached the border fence with Israel in the middle of the night.

Palestinian medics who recovered the bodies after daybreak on Monday said they were impossible to identify because they had been so badly damaged by tank shells. They had reportedly been wearing civilian clothes and no Palestinian armed group has said they were part of its organisation.

Human rights groups say that in the two weeks since the assassination of the Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, more than 20 people have been killed in Gaza. Some of those were the targets of continuing Israeli military operations against alleged militants. Many, say the Palestinians, were innocent victims and bystanders.

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