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      Planning Disengagement

      Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this morning with U.S. emissaries William Burns, Steve Hadley and Eliot Abrams, presenting his unilateral plan to withdraw from Gaza and displace some 8,000 Jews from their homes.
      First Publish: 2/19/2004, 3:52 PM / Last Update: 2/19/2004, 10:31 AM

      The Americans, for their part, will explain their reservations about the plan.

      Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday that the plan has still not met two basic conditions set by Prime Minister Sharon; namely, approval in the Cabinet and Knesset, and the consent of the Americans. The U.S. is against, for instance, Israel's annexation of settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria in exchange for the retreat from Gaza. Without this annexation, however, governmental support for the plan will be place even more in doubt than it is at present.

      The Bush Administration is also said to be against anything that would contradict the Road Map, and to want the withdrawal to be coordinated as much as possible with the Palestinian Authority. In addition, the U.S. is not happy with the Israeli request for the Americans to pay for the evacuation.

      It was reported this morning that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon continues to object to a unilateral withdrawal - and that he told as much to the Prime Minister during their meeting on Tuesday night. MK David Levy, who served as Foreign Minister three times since the 1980s, said last week that Sharon would not be able to overcome the widespread opposition to the plan in the Knesset, the government, the defense establishment and his own Likud Party's Central Committee.

      Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz, on the other hand, says that plans for the withdrawal are well underway, and that Israel, in any event, will continue to control Gaza's air space and coast. Mofaz has also given orders to allow the continued influx of Arab goods and workers via the Karni Crossing from Gaza into the rest of Israel, and to continue providing water and electricity to Gaza.

      Police estimate the number of yesterday's demonstrators against the Israeli retreat at 10,000. Pictures of the event can be seen at . The protest, culminating a four-day march by hundreds of Gush Katif residents and others from Jewish Gaza to Jerusalem, was held outside the Prime Minister's residence. Among the speakers were Deputy Minister Tzvi Hendel, MK Uri Ariel, MK Meir Porush, and others.