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Israel Lists Settlements for Demolition

The Israeli military has drawn up a list of 28 unauthorized West Bank outposts that need to be torn down as part of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, security sources said Tuesday. The number represents less than half the outposts critics say Israel must dismantle under the plan.

Taking down the outposts, often just a trailer or water tower on a hilltop, is a key initial requirement under the road map, a move that would put Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in confrontation with settler groups, one of his key constituencies.

Sharon has also spoken in recent days about removing veteran Jewish settlements (search) as well. He told angry activists from his Likud Party (search) on Monday night that some settlements would have to go as part of any final peace agreement.

In another development, Israeli troops pulled out of part of the West Bank city of Nablus (search) following a three-week incursion aimed at Palestinian militants. Witnesses reported widespread destruction in the aftermath.

Sharon's speech Monday evening was his first before his party's hard-line central committee since he began discussing relocating or evacuating settlements in a unilateral disengagement plan he unveiled last month. He told angry party members he would carry out the go-it-alone plan if he concludes that peace efforts have failed.

"The disengagement plans are mine and I will carry them out," he said, staring at his critics.

Sharon has said he would prefer a negotiated settlement under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. Sharon has been under pressure from Washington to fulfill his obligations.

The road map, which envisions an independent Palestinian state by 2005, orders Israel to freeze construction in existing settlements and dismantle many outposts. It also requires the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups. Neither side has carried out its commitments.

The outposts have angered Palestinians, who see them as seeds of Jewish settlements on land they claim for a future state.

The 28 outposts identified on Israel's list include 18 inhabited communities housing some 400 settlers, security sources said Tuesday. The largest of the outposts is Migron, home to 43 families, the sources said on condition of anonymity. Six of the outposts had already been targeted for evacuation in the past week.

The Peace Now (search) monitoring group says more than 60 unauthorized outposts had been set up since March 2001.

Raanan Gissin, a Sharon spokesman, said the premier has given approval "in general" for dismantling outposts but he did not have a specific number.

"I don't know about these 28. He has agreed to speed up and expedite the dismantling of outposts," Gissin said.

The security sources said Israeli military officials had preferred to keep the outpost list secret, fearing settlers would rush in to bolster them outposts. But the list, obtained by The Associated Press, was released after a request by a lawmaker from the dovish Meretz Party (search).

It wasn't clear when, or if, the 28 outposts would be removed. A formal order must be issued, and settlers have 15 days to appeal after that.

"We will struggle against this and intend to appeal to the Supreme Court to stop this process," said Yehoshua Mor Yosef, a settler spokesman.

While the government has dismantled some outposts in the past few months, others have gone up in their place.

In Monday's speech, Sharon reiterated his commitment to also remove some veteran settlements in a future peace deal or, if peace talks fail, as part of his unilateral separation plan from the Palestinians. Sharon says the separation is necessary to protect Israel's security.

"It is clear that in a permanent peace accord, we will have to give up some of the Jewish settlements," Sharon said, setting off a chorus of boos.

However, if there is no progress toward peace "in a number of months," Sharon said he would order a unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians that would include moving some Jewish settlements.

More than 230,000 settlers live in some 150 permanent settlements the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel captured in 1967. About 3.5 million Palestinians live in the areas, which they claim for a future state.

Hawkish members of the government criticized Sharon's willingness to remove settlements. Dovish critics from the opposition remained skeptical of Sharon's intentions.

Many accuse him of trying primarily to placate the United States with pragmatic-sounding pronouncements, while playing for time in the belief the Palestinians will torpedo any progress before he has to act.

"The prime minister continues to toy with an entire nation," said Zahava Galon, the Meretz lawmaker. "He continues to proclaim, but nothing happens."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also was dismissive.

"They don't want peace, but the continuation of the military operation and what they are doing, removing outposts here and there, which is only deception," Arafat said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Palestinians said that Israeli forces had withdrawn from the West Bank city of Nablus after a three-week operation. The army said, however, that the operation, aimed at militants, was ongoing.

During the three-week sweep, 12 Palestinians were killed. Witnesses, surveying the aftermath for the first time Tuesday, said that troops had left behind wide-scale destruction.

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