Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed Monday that the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank will be delayed until mid-August.
Sharon told Israel television the evacuation of settlers from the 21 Gaza Strip settlements would be delayed until after a religious mourning period, which ends Aug. 14. "The evacuation will be carried out, giving consideration to the mourning period," Sharon said. The original date to start the pullout was July 25.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom warned Monday that occupation forces wouldn't leave Palestinian population centers if the Islamic resistance group, Hamas, wins the upcoming legislative elections. The Israeli state-run radio quoted Shalom as saying that Israel would refuse to "hand over" Gaza Strip to Hamas. "Israel will not hand over the Gaza Strip to Hamas until the movement gives up its weapons," he noted.
Shalom's comments were condemned by Muslim leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "The Palestinian people alone have the right to choose its leaders and representatives, our elections are none of the Zionists' business," said Muhammed Suleiman, a Hamas spokesman in the Hebron region. "The Israeli government is mostly made up of certified war criminals," he said.