Report: Israel May Expand Withdrawal

The Yediot Ahronot daily on Friday quoted unidentified sources close to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) as saying he might evacuate additional West Bank settlements after the summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search) and northern West Bank (search), while connecting major settlement blocs to Israel.

The newspaper said Sharon is likely to take action in the next few months if Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas doesn't last long enough in his position to carry out a final peace deal with Israel, prompting Israel to act unilaterally to decide its final borders.

The isolated settlements that would be evacuated are located in Palestinian population centers in the northern West Bank and the southern Mount Hebron region, the newspaper said.

Yediot said the other part of the program would be expanding major settlement blocs near Israel's borders to create a contiguous stretch of Israeli-controlled territory.

Sharon, who plans to dismantle all 21 Gaza settlements and four isolated ones in the northern West Bank this summer, is already planning to fill in the gap separating the largest settlement bloc, Maaleh Adumim, from Jerusalem. The plan has outraged Palestinians who see the eastern sector of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.