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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Arafat attacks Sharon's Gaza plan
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Palestinians are outraged at Bush's support for Sharon plan
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has reacted angrily to President Bush's decision to endorse the Israeli prime minister's plan for the Middle East.

In a televised speech, Mr Arafat called for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

He added that Palestinian refugees would never give up their "right to return" to former homes in Israel.

The controversial plan proposes pulling Israelis out of the Gaza Strip, but keeping large areas of the West Bank.

Mr Arafat did not mention Wednesday's meeting between Mr Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon specifically, but said peace in the Middle East "will only be achieved through a final deliverance from the Israeli occupation and settlement activity".

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also voiced reservations about the Sharon plan, saying any peace deal should be negotiated based on UN resolutions.

If all parties choose to embrace this moment they can open the door to progress and put an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts
US President George W Bush

The controversy came as the Israelis launched a new raid in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources say 15 Palestinians were wounded when Israeli troops backed by a helicopter moved into the Rafah refugee camp.

The Israeli army says it is searching for weapons smuggling tunnels in the camp, which is close to the Egyptian border.

'Changed realities'

The "disengagement" plan envisages Israel uprooting all settlements on the Gaza Strip but keeping six settlement blocs in the West Bank.

Mr Sharon discussed the plan with US President George W Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

West Bank settlers (not including East Jerusalem): 240,000
Settlement block populations:
Maale Adumim - 30,000
Ariel - 18,000
Kiryat Arba - 4,000
Hebron enclave - 500
Givat Zeev - 10,000
Gush Etzion - 30,000
After the meeting Mr Bush said the proposals could lead to a "peaceful, democratic, viable Palestinian state".

He added that the "realities on the ground and in the region have changed greatly" and should be reflected in any final peace deal.

The president said any Palestinian refugees who wanted to return should be accommodated on Palestinian land - a statement certain to please Mr Sharon.

The solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, he said, "will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there - rather than Israel".

Mr Sharon said his plan would create "a new and better reality for the state of Israel", and would form the basis of renewed negotiations with the Palestinians.


However Palestinian leaders insist the borders of a new state should be based on the 1967 borders - before Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said Mr Bush had apparently given "himself the right to make concessions on behalf of the Palestinians... we cannot accept this under any circumstances".

"He is the first president who has legitimised the settlements in the Palestinian territories when he said that there will be no return to the borders of 1967."

Muslim countries are expected to discuss the Israeli plan at a special meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia on 4 May.

About 92,500 Jews live in the six West Bank settlements Mr Sharon wants to keep - out of a total of 240,000 in the West Bank, or 400,000 if east Jerusalem is included.

Another 7,500 live in enclaves in the Gaza Strip, alongside 1.3 million Palestinians.

The BBC's Peter Greste
"This was the first time ordinary Palestinians have been able to organise a response to the developments in Washington"

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