JERUSALEM, AP -Not all Israeli settlements in the West Bank will remain in place in a final peace accord with the Palestinians, but there will be no pullbacks comparable to this month”s evacuations, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday.
Sharon spoke as a senior Egyptian mediator discussed Gaza border crossings and pried a pledge from Palestinian militants to maintain a truce with Israel despite a surge of violence following the withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank.
Interviewed on Channel 10 TV, Sharon insisted that all of the main settlement blocs would remain under Israeli sovereignty, but "not all the settlements of today in Judea and Samaria will remain," calling the West Bank by its biblical names.
He was not specific, but he appeared to be referring to small enclaves around Palestinian cities, as opposed to larger ones near the line with Israel.
Sharon said there would be no "second stage of disengagement," as he calls the pullout, either unilateral or coordinated. He said the next step must be negotiations under the "road map" peace plan that leads through three stages to a Palestinian state.
Sharon said the issue of Israel”s borders could be raised only at the end of the blueprint.
In the framework of the Gaza pullout, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak”s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, was in Gaza Monday on a mission to bolster the cease-fire and mediate an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on Gaza”s borders that would allow Gazans to come and go freely for the first time in nearly four decades.
Israel wants assurances that Gaza militants will not smuggle in weapons for future attacks and has proposed moving the crossing to a point where the Gaza, Egyptian and Israeli borders meet so it can continue to oversee it.
The Palestinians and international mediators proposed a compromise that would leave the crossing at Rafah with international observers — possibly from the European Union — monitoring the border traffic.
Israeli Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz said it could take months to reach agreement over control of Gaza”s border crossings, as well as over safe passage for Palestinians to move from Gaza across Israel to the West Bank.
"We want to help them, to give them the opportunity to cross as easy as they can from Gaza to the West Bank — but on the other hand, because of the fact that it”s going to move through Israel, we have to be very careful," Pines-Paz told foreign reporters.
Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has acted as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.
Also Monday, about 250 Gaza villagers branded as collaborators by their neighbors and protected by a cordon of Israeli soldiers moved to an area outside the southern Israeli town of Arad as part of the Gaza pullout.
The villagers of Dahaniya had argued that Israel left them with a dangerous reputation because it once used the village as a transit point for Palestinian collaborators. Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel often receive the death sentence in Palestinian court or are killed by militant groups.
The villagers will receive Israeli compensation similar to that given to the 8,500 Jewish settlers evacuated from Gaza, said Shlomo Dror, a military spokesman.
Suleiman”s immediate task was to bolster a cease-fire declared in February that drastically reduced violence after more than four years of bloodshed.
In the latest flare-up, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Sunday, following an Israeli arrest raid in the West Bank last week in which five Palestinians were killed.
Palestinians insisted the truce is still in effect.
"The calm still exists. We are committed to this," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said after meeting with Suleiman. "All the factions are committed," he said. Leaders from the main militant groups — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs” Brigades — also attended the meeting.
But the Gaza leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, which claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in southern Israel, reserved the right to retaliate for what he called Israeli truce violations.
"This calm should be mutual," said Nafez Azzam. "Israel in the past few weeks has committed brutal massacres against our people and the Palestinians have the right to respond."