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Arafat Rejects U.S. Backing for Sharon

April 17, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected on Saturday U.S. support for Israel’s plan to maintain some West Bank settlements, saying such decisions were the business of the Palestinians and their leadership.

``No one in this world has the right to give away our land and our rights,″ said Arafat referring to President Bush’s statements Wednesday supporting Israel’s plan to hold onto some West Bank settlements.

``Our people and its leadership, are the only ones that can legitimately speak on behalf of our nation,″ Arafat said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza strip by the end of 2005, but retain control of the coastal strip’s border crossings and airspace, according to details of his ``disengagement″ plan published for the first time Friday.

The proposal, which also includes an Israeli pullout from four West Bank settlements, received a huge boost this week when President Bush heartily endorsed it in a letter he gave Sharon during a meeting in Washington.

Bush also said Israel could keep some West Bank settlements and would not have to absorb Palestinian refugees in any final peace deal, giving Sharon a political victory on two of the most contentious issues in the conflict.

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