Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the ongoing Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a painful step that is essential to Israel's national security.
Mr. Sharon said Monday that Israel can not hold on to the territory forever. Israeli sealed Gaza Monday and thousands of soldiers and police will begin forcibly removing settlers from the territory Wednesday. Many settlers have already left Gaza.
Mr. Sharon added that Israel will respond favorably to Palestinian peace overtures. But he also promised the harshest response ever to further attacks.
In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it is crucial for Israel and the Palestinians to work together on the withdrawal. He added that the United States plans to send assessment teams to Israel to determine how much U.S. aid will be given to help Israel build new homes for the 8,500 evacuated settlers.
Information for this report is provided by AP.