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|Thursday, May 03, 2001, updated at 17:42(GMT+8)|
No Settlement Freeze, No Pullout From Jordan Valley: SharonIsraeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Wednesday that Israel will not discuss a freeze on Jewish settlement construction with the Palestinians and the occupied Jordan Valley will remain in Israel's hands "forever."
Sharon made the statement at the end of a condolence visit to a Jewish family in the settlement of Ofra near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israel Army Radio reported.
A son of the family was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday, three months after his father was killed in a similar shooting incident in January.
There are more than 140 Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians demand that Israel evacuate all those settlements in a final-status peace deal.
Since the violence between Israel and the Palestinians broke out late last September, the settlements and settlers have become the " legitimate targets" of Palestinian gunmen.
The Palestinians have requested Israel to freeze all settlement construction before the two sides could resume peace negotiations after seven months of conflicts, which have so far killed more than 490 people, most of them Palestinians.
However, Sharon, an Israeli hawk, Monday reassured Jewish settlers in Ofra that the issue of settlement freeze was simply not on the agenda, and the two sides had reached no agreement.
"This is not up for discussion. We will not pay protection money for stopping terror," he said.
Sharon also blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for "not stopping terror activities for one moment" and "not changing his strategy ... that they could achieve more by terror and violence."
He further threatened, "if Arafat won't deal with terror, we will deal with terror, and this will be done while preventing escalation. We are interested in preventing escalation, but we have not yet exhausted all the possibilities for stopping terror."
Regarding the Jordan Valley issue, Sharon said that the valley, traditionally regarded by Israel as a buffer zone between Israel and the Arab countries to the east, should not be turned over as part of the West Bank to the Palestinians, even the two sides could reach a final peace deal.
Sharon boasted that Israeli sovereignty will be maintained over the entire area, from Beit She'an, a city some 85 kilometers north of Jerusalem, in the north to the Dead Sea in the south, and from the border with Jordan in the east to the mountain ridges of the West Bank in the west.
"I cannot foresee any situation where this status will be changed," he added.
Sharon reportedly ordered his Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer to disperse Israeli soldiers along the highways in the Jordan Valley to "ensure it is secured and safe for Israeli travel."
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