Israel Wants 'Remote-Control' Border With Gaza

The Israeli army envisions a "remote control" border with the Gaza Strip (search) after a troop withdrawal, including unmanned patrol cars and computerized observation posts that would automatically spot and kill attackers, a military official said Friday.

The technology already exists, but the plan hasn't been approved yet, and other options are also being considered, the official said on condition of anonymity.

In preparation for the Israeli withdrawal, the Palestinian Authority (search) and militant groups in Gaza have begun drafting an agreement for jointly running the territory, officials said Friday.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) said the document would be completed after additional talks in Egypt.

Qureia met Friday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (search) in Cairo to discuss the Israeli withdrawal, scheduled to be completed in September 2005. Egypt has been serving as mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Qureia has also met with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza in recent days. The militants have refused to join the Palestinian Authority, which was established as a result of interim peace accords with Israel that they opposed. But they have indicated they want to participate in running Gaza after a withdrawal.

"Now we are working on a paper that includes a framework for all the issues. When concluding the dialogue based on this paper and when we say that we have had fruitful results then we can say that we have an agreement," Qureia said in a telephone interview from Cairo.

Also Friday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) was quoted as saying he "definitely" understands that Israel must retain its Jewish character — a rare statement by the Palestinian leader. But Arafat was evasive when asked by the Haaretz daily about the fate of more than 4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

In peace talks, the Palestinians have insisted that Israel recognize the refugees' "right of return." Israel refuses, saying a mass influx of Palestinians will demographically overwhelm the state's Jewish population. The dispute has contributed to the collapse of past negotiations.

In the interview, Arafat suggested that many refugees could settle in a future Palestinian state, but refused to say how many should be allowed into Israel.

The resumption of negotiations on a final peace deal appeared remote, with Sharon forging ahead with his plan of "unilateral disengagement" from the Palestinians.

As part of the plan, Israel also plans to withdraw from four small West Bank settlements, expand other large settlements there that it intends to keep and complete construction of a West Bank separation barrier that would become the border until a final peace deal is reached.

Military officials said Sharon expects the military to present a detailed Gaza withdrawal plan by July. Army planners estimate the troop redeployment would cost $223 million, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported Friday.

Military officials also said, an army think tank has been working on a new border design for months. Planners envision a "remote control" border to cut down on the number of troops deployed in the area. High-tech equipment for border control is already being tested, they said.

A computerized observation system will allow the army to identify "hostile elements" and fire deep into Gaza, Yediot reported. The system will even choose the most appropriate weapon to use to hit a specific target.

In addition, the army is testing unmanned patrol cars that can identify and defuse explosives by remote control. Planners have also prepared alternatives, military officials said.

"The technology exists, but it (the plan) hasn't been approved yet," one official said.

On Thursday, the Israeli Defense Ministry published a bid for an 80-foot-deep trench between Egypt and Gaza meant to block Palestinian arms smuggling after a withdrawal.

The trench would cost millions, and military officials said it remains unclear whether more Palestinian homes would have to be demolished to make room for it. Israeli media reported the trench idea would be presented in talks next week with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Such plans deepen Palestinian fears that Israel will block all movement in and out of Gaza. "The Israeli government is planning to turn Gaza into a big prison, with 1.3 million people," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat. "I think it would be better to have ... security cooperation. That's what people do when they have a shared border."

However, Israel says that it needs to seal Gaza to prevent Palestinian militant attacks. On Friday, a homemade rocket was fired from Gaza at the Israeli town of Sderot, landing in a backyard. The rocket caused no injury. Dozens of such rockets have been fired at Sderot in more than three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Israeli army planners have also looked at what could hamper a withdrawal — the collapse of Sharon's shaky coalition, violent settler resistance and an increase in militant attacks that could turn Israeli public opinion against a pullback.

Evacuation of Gaza's 7,500 settlers is seen as the most difficult part of the pullout. The army is considering setting up a special unit of 2,000 reserve soldiers to remove settlers, government officials said.

The officials said that within 10 days, settlers volunteering to leave will be able to present their compensation demands. In August, the first settlers could leave the enclaves.

The government is also considering speeding up by several months the evacuation timetable, currently set for September 2005, the officials said.