Israel to Ask U.S. for Funds for Pullout,00.html

Wednesday July 6, 2005 11:46 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel will ask Washington for hundreds of millions of dollars to help foot the bill for next month's $2 billion evacuation of the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements, a senior Israeli official said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the government is considering declaring Gaza settlements off-limits to nonresidents to thwart an attempt by settlers to sabotage the evacuation by flooding the area with protesters, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that he and Sharon might hold a summit before the pullout, set to begin in mid-August. They last met in June but failed to resolve several major issues.

On Tuesday, the main settlers group called on its followers to migrate en masse to the Gaza settlements on July 18. Sharon aide Raanan Gissin said the government was considering sealing the area before the march, and that Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra would have final say.

Gaza was sealed briefly last week before the military stormed an abandoned hotel to remove 150 Jewish extremists barricaded inside. Most were from outside Gaza.

Israeli government officials will head to Washington next week to ask for money to relocate military bases and develop the Negev Desert in southern Israel, where most of the uprooted settlers are expected to move, said a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the request has not been formally made.

The delegation will ask for ``several hundreds of millions of dollars,'' the official said, refusing to be more specific.

With just six weeks until the evacuation, Mofaz told lawmakers on Tuesday that Israel plans to send 45,000 soldiers and police to evacuate the 9,000 Gaza and West Bank settlers. The massive deployment reflects expectations of widespread resistance, some of it possibly violent.

Extremists have already tried to disrupt life around the country by blocking highways, and have threatened to step up the resistance as the evacuation date nears.

Sharon told lawmakers he has instructed security forces ``not to allow the blocking of roads, damage to communications' structures, scattering of nails (on the roads) and such things. The order is unequivocal - life is not to be disrupted. We shall not allow it.''

Sharon also said Israel has made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that it would respond harshly if Palestinian militants fire on soldiers and settlers during the pullout.

``If there is fire during the evacuation, our response will be very harsh, possibly so harsh that it would destroy the whole process,'' he said.

Late Tuesday, Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef met Mofaz to discuss coordinating the withdrawal, but no agreements were announced.

The World Bank, meanwhile, is promoting a ``sunken'' road linking the noncontiguous territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and foreign security inspectors at Gaza's future airport and seaport, to give Palestinians freedom of movement while keeping Israelis safe after Israel's pullout.

The bank's regional director, Nigel Roberts, said in an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday that the international community would look closely at Israeli and Palestinian performance - including Israeli willingness to lift restrictions on Palestinian movement and Palestinian reform - before pumping money into Gaza.

``Donors in my view would be ill-advised to inject large additional sums of money today unless the policy conditions are put in place that will enable Palestinian economic recovery,'' Roberts said. ``It's simply a waste of money.''

Gaza aid is to be discussed at this week's G-8 summit of the world's richest nations.