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Bush, Blair Support Israeli Withdrawal Plan - 2004-04-17


President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are backing Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw from some occupied territories while leaving Jewish settlements in others. The two leaders met at the White House Friday.

President Bush says the plan is a fantastic opportunity for the Middle East.

"It gives the Palestinians a chance to create a reformed, just, and free government. Palestinian leadership must rise to the challenge," he said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan calls for the evacuation of 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four remote settlements in the West Bank, while strengthening Israeli control over other Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Blair said the withdrawal plan gives the international community an opportunity to help Palestinians build lasting political institutions.

Following a White House meeting with Prime Minister Sharon Wednesday, Mr. Bush said that once a separate Palestinian state is established, Palestinian refugees should settle there instead of reclaiming land in what is now Israel.

That brought widespread criticism from Palestinian and Arab leaders about what has become known as the Palestinian "right of return."

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