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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 16:46 GMT
Israel 'to make more withdrawals'
Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans more unilateral West Bank withdrawals if his party wins the general election, a key aide has said.

Former security chief Avi Dichter said settlers will be relocated to major settlement blocs and Israel will define its final borders within four years.

Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements last year.

Polls show Mr Olmert's Kadima party holds a commanding lead ahead of the election, due on 28 March.

Mr Olmert has previously indicated Israel will hold on to the Jordan Valley, as well as East Jerusalem and the major settlement blocks of Maale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion as part of a final settlement.

Mr Dichter, a leading member of Kadima, said the government will start planning further pull-outs immediately after the election.

Mr Olmert took over as acting prime minister after Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January. Mr Sharon, who founded Kadima late last year, remains in a coma.

Mr Olmert's proposals are in line with what Mr Sharon had been suggesting.

Speaking on Israel radio, Mr Dichter said while Israel will remove settlers, "it will be only a civilian disengagement, not a military disengagement".

He said in the light of militant group Hamas winning the Palestinian election in January, Israel had no alternative but to go it alone.

"In the absence of a Palestinian partner, Israel will have to determine its final borders by itself, and that will involve the consolidation of smaller settlements into settlement blocs," he said.

Mr Dichter did not specify which settlements would be evacuated, but the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot said at least 17 would be cleared in the first stage.

The international community considers all settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Settler fury

Jewish settlers, whose movement angrily opposed the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, reacted furiously to the latest plans.

"There is no reason why we shouldn't be beaten and suffer... and stop this process with our bodies," settler leader Benny Katzover told Israel's Army Radio.

Hamas officials also denounced the move.

"This is another indication of Israeli policy, which ignores the existence of the Palestinian people," Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank for a future state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Last month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Israel should not take any steps to set final borders, insisting the issue must be settled in final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

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