PM: Most Gaza settlers will agree to go under disengagement
Sharon tours the Nitzanim dunes to examine the possibility of mass relocation of Gaza settlements.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told activists from his Likud Party on Thursday that he was sure most Gaza Strip settlers would agree to leave under his plan to evacuate the 21 settlements in Gaza.
Speaking after a tour of the Nitzanim dunes, one of the areas touted as a possible site of new homes for the evacuated settlers, Sharon said that he would "personally work on acceptable solution for the settlers who must relocate."
"It is clear to me that there is not a single person who wants to leave, but since the Cabinet and the parliament have made decisions, important decisions, about Israel's status and position, the residents also understand they must move to other places," the prime minister said.
At the end of the tour, Sharon told Ashkelon Coast Regional Council Chairman Shimon Cohen that a decision on the matter would be made soon.
Gush Katif representatives met with Sharon on Tuesday to ask him to consider the idea.
There are two options for implementing the proposal. One would be to build another 1,000 houses in the existing community of Nitzan, thereby enabling it to absorb the majority of the 1,700 families due to be evacuated from Gaza. The other would be to build four new communities in the region, creating enough homes for all 1,700 families.
Mofaz reverses call to demolish evacuated settlementsAlso Thursday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced a reversal of a previous recommendation to the government, saying he would counsel ministers to avoid demolishing homes of evacuated Gaza settlers.
Mofaz said after a meeting with senior security officials that he had changed his mind and would present his new stance at the upcoming cabinet meeting.
With regard to synagogues and cemeteries in the Strip, Mofaz said he favored deconstructing and transferring them to Israel.
Two day ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Washington objected to a total demolition of the settlers' homes.
Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said Thursday that international reaction and environmental concerns had led Mofaz to change his mind on the matter.
"Taking all those things into account, the defense minister made a recommendation not to destroy the private houses," Boim told Army Radio.
Pines-Paz against Nitzanim option The interior minister said Thursday that the en masse transfer of Gush Katif settlers to the Nitzanim dunes is untenable.
"The act is unthinkable and has no chance," said Ophir Pines-Paz.
He nevertheless recommended examining the option of expanding the community of Nitzan, adjacent to the Nitzanim dunes, in order to absorb at least some of the evacuated settlers.
Pines-Paz also called on planning bodies and government agencies to satisfy the desires of Gaza Strip settlers in regards to their transfer to alternate locations.
Greens slam Nitzanim moveEnvironment Minister Shalom Simhon convened an emergency meeting of the country's leading environmental organizations Thursday to plot strategies for thwarting the Nitzanim option. The green groups fear the plan would severely damage the dunes and the area's nature reserves. The stretch of dunes is one of the last remaining undeveloped coastal lands in Israel.
The state, is not obligated to give the evacuees "a seaside home at the expense of a rare and unique nature preserve," Simhon said Wednesay.
Some 20 activists from environmental organizations were demonstrating against the transfer of Gush Katif settlers to the Nitzanim area. They oppose both versions of the Nitzanim plan, but particularly object to the version calling for the establishment of four new communities.
The demonstrators maintain construction at the site will harm the rare ecosystem and the area's dunes.
"The Nitzanim dunes cannot be made into real estate," one supporter said.
"This is not what reserves are for. We are not for or against the disengagement. We are not against the settlers. We are just against building in nature reserves," said Tanhum Yoreh, 24, a masters student in environmental studies.
Many in Nitzan, a small community of religious Zionists, support relocating the settlers there, but oppose damaging the reserve.
"It would be terrible if the destruction of settlements, would also bring about the destruction of the environment," said Yair Farjoun, 51, a Nitzan resident.
Opposition to the plan has also come from towns in the Nitzanim area, which lies between Ashkelon and Ashdod. Ashdod Mayor Zvi Zilker wrote to Sharon on Wednesday urging that all Gaza evacuees be resettled in a new neighborhood in his town. The town has a good state religious school system with plenty of empty space in its classes, so it is well-equipped to absorb the settlers, most of whom are religious, he said.
"In the Nitzanim dunes area, there is no appropriate infrastructure, whereas we have everything necessary to absorb the Gush Katif residents," Zilker wrote. "The residents of Ashdod want to embrace them. I believe that this is a better option than the idea of establishing a bloc of communities in the middle of Nitzanim."
Zilker had proposed absorbing a few hundred Gaza settlers in the past, but the sudden emergence of the Nitzanim plan prompted him to make the offer to Gaza's entire Jewish population.
Even if the government approves the Nitzanim plan it would take about three years to build permanent housing on the site. The settlers, therefore, are proposing that they reside in temporary housing in the area in the interim, Haaretz learned Wednesday. There is an army base in the area that would have to be moved to make room for the new communities in any case, so it would be easy to set up temporary housing there by utilizing the base's existing water, sewage and electricity infrastructure, they argued.
Sharon brought Yonatan Bassi, the head of the Disengagement Administration (Sela), with him on Thursday's tour. The premier also met with Bassi on Wednesday in a sign of government support for Sela. Both gestures are meant to compensate for Sharon's meeting with the settlers Tuesday, at which Bassi, at the settlers' insistence, was not present.
Before arriving at Nitzanim, Sharon visited Kibbutz Zikkim, Carmiya and the western Negev communities of Bat Hadar and Nativ Ha'asara - locations where at least some Gaza settlers are expected to resettle.
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