JERUSALEM – Israel will wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November to withdraw troops from the Gaza Strip, a security official said Friday, while soldiers sealed the West Bank (search) and Gaza Strip (search) amid new warnings of attacks by Palestinian militants.
The moves came as an Israeli newspaper released a poll that put Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) approval rating at its lowest since he took office in 2001. For the first time, a majority of Israelis said he should resign, the poll said.
The poll in the Yediot Ahronot daily said 57 percent of Israelis believed Sharon was not trustworthy. That appeared to be a reflection of public displeasure about Sharon's alleged links to a growing number of scandals.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (search) decided not to withdraw troops from the Gaza Strip before U.S. presidential elections in November and will brief U.S. officials on his position during a trip to Washington next week, a security official said on condition of anonymity.
Israel has said it would withdraw from much of Gaza and parts of the West Bank if peace talks remain frozen in coming months. The United States has not rejected the plan outright, but has expressed reservations about unilateral actions. The U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan calls for a negotiated agreement.
Earlier this week, Dov Weisglass, a senior Sharon aide, discussed the proposed withdrawal with top U.S. officials. The Maariv daily said Friday that U.S. officials pressed Weisglass for the delay, fearing the pullout could spark chaos at a time when the Bush administration wants to avoid further upheaval in the Middle East.
However, Sharon adviser Assaf Shariv said Friday that no dates for a possible withdrawal were raised during the meetings with U.S. officials.
The closure on the West Bank and Gaza was imposed for the duration of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which ends Monday. Such closures, routine during holidays, idle thousands of Palestinian laborers who have jobs in Israel.
Also Friday, a 10-year-old Palestinian boy died of wounds sustained in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City last week, officials at Gaza's Shifa Hospital said, identifying him as Moutaz Ashiraf from the Jebaliya refugee camp. His death brought to four the number of Palestinians killed in the attack. The other three were members of the violent Islamic Jihad group.
In central Israel, police put up roadblocks Friday. On one highway, officers searched each car amid heightened warnings of plans by militants to carry out attacks.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have threatened revenge for recent Israeli air strikes. On Friday, a homemade rocket fired from Gaza hit a parking lot outside a supermarket in the Israeli border town of Sderot. The rocket damaged several nearby stores, but caused no injuries.
In the Dahaf poll in Yediot, 57 percent of 501 respondents said Sharon was not a trustworthy prime minister, up from 51 percent in a February poll. At the beginning of his first term in 2001, just over 20 percent said he was not to be trusted.
The survey had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
For the first time, a majority of respondents — 53 percent — also said Sharon should resign as prime minister, while 43 percent said he should stay on. In a February poll, 46 percent said Sharon should resign, and 51 percent said he should remain prime minister.
Earlier this week, the Maariv newspaper suggested that favoritism played a role in Sharon's handling of a prisoner swap between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah (search) guerrillas. Maariv said a former business partner of Sharon was the ex-father-in-law of Hezbollah captive Elhanan Tannenbaum, a confessed drug dealer and indebted gambler released in the contentious deal. Sharon said he hadn't spoken to the business partner for decades, and that he didn't know of the man's ties to Tannenbaum.
Also Friday, police arrested a second suspect in nine bombing attacks on Arabs in the Israeli port city of Haifa in the past three years. One bomb had exploded under the car of an Israeli Arab lawmaker and another damaged a mosque. Three people were slightly wounded in the attacks, including a small boy who found one of the bombs, police said.
The initial suspect, identified Thursday, was Eliran Golan, 22, a self-proclaimed Jewish extremist. Overnight, police arrested a second man, a resident from the port city of Ashdod.