PM leaning toward razing evacuees' Gaza homes

By Aluf Benn

Haaretz

Nisan 29, 5765

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is leaning toward sticking to his earlier decision to demolish the homes of the settlers who will be evacuated from the Gaza Strip, according to cabinet sources.

The sources said over the weekend that no convincing reason had been given for leaving the houses intact, especially since the Palestinian Authority also supports destroying them.

Sharon will not discuss the issue at today's cabinet session. At the special debate last week, Labor Party ministers, as well as Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra, supported leaving the buildings standing.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni opposed changing the existing decision. Sharon refrained from expressing an opinion, apart from saying that "in an ideal situation, the houses would have been left standing." He promised to bring the issue to another cabinet debate.

The decision to tear down the houses was made a year ago, following Sharon's defeat in the poll among Likud members. A demolition was intended to prevent Palestinians from "dancing on the roofs" after the settlers' evacuation.

The decision was not enough to satisfy Likud rebels, but helped Sharon obtain the support of Netanyahu, Education Minister Limor Livnat and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom for the disengagement.

After the coalition reshuffle, Labor ministers, headed by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, began pressuring Sharon to change the decision. Sharon said that leaving the houses intact would be conditional on an agreement to coordinate the disengagement with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Sharon is delaying a final decision on a date for the evacuation. A government source said yesterday that the date would be set only after Independence Day.

Initially, the evacuation was scheduled for July 25, a few days after the evacuation order signed by Sharon and Mofaz comes into effect. However, before Pesach, Sharon announced that he was leaning toward postponing the evacuation to August 15, after the Tisha B'av mourning day, and would announce his decision after Pesach.

Sharon plans to hold a debate in the cabinet this morning on the allocation of farm land to evacuees from the Gaza Strip.

The cabinet will ask the National Planning and Construction Council to begin drafting a master plan for new communities in the Nitzanim area, for the Gush Katif evacuees. Sharon has decided to begin work on the plan even if an insufficient number of Gush Katif residents sign applications to move en bloc to Nitzanim.