Sharon will Leave all Settlements Intact if He is Elected Israeli PM
Israeli right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon said Wednesday he would leave all controversial Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories intact if he is elected Prime Minister next month.
"All the settlements are established in security zones and there is no question of dismantling a single one," Sharon told Israeli military radio.
In previous right-wing governments Sharon promoted the building of as many settlements as possible in order to complicate Israel's pullout from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which it occupied in 1967.
Israel's settlement policy has infuriated the Palestinians, who say it is illegal and want all colonies removed. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak says he wants to regroup settlements into blocks under Israeli sovereignty in an eventual peace deal.
Barak is forecast to lose the prime ministerial election on February 6 to Sharon, who is detested by the Palestinians for his role in massacres in refugee camps during Israel's invasion of Lebanon when Sharon was defense minister.
Sharon is also blamed for sparking the current Palestinian uprising, or Infitada, by his visit to a disputed east Jerusalem holy site, on September 28.
But in a surprise move former Israeli president Ezer Weizman, considered a dove in Barak's Labor Party, said he would vote for Sharon in the elections, a newspaper report said Wednesday.
The daily Haaretz said Weizman pledged his vote, though not his active support in the hardline Likud leader's election campaign, when he met Sharon on Tuesday.
Weizman said Israel needed "order" and he was convinced that Sharon would "follow the path of peace", the paper said. He refused to explain his decision further.
Weizman resigned from the figurehead position of Israeli president in July amid a financial scandal. He was succeeded, in another surprise vote in parliament, by Moshe Katzav, a little-known member of Likud, in preference to former Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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