BBC: Olmert 'suspends' withdrawal plan

Friday, August 18, 2006

Olmert 'suspends' withdrawal plan

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suspended his plans for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, a government minister says.

Housing minister Meir Shetreet said the plan had not been abandoned entirely.

He was commenting on media reports press that the pullout was no longer at the top of Mr Olmert's agenda.

Mr Olmert was elected on a platform of withdrawal from some of the West Bank, while tightening Israel's hold on large settlements and the Jordan Valley.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Jerusalem says the development comes at a time when support in Israel both for the withdrawal and for Mr Olmert's government appears to be slipping.

Growing criticism

Fighting and violence in Lebanon and in Gaza this summer has caused many Israelis to question the plans.

Speaking on Israel army radio the housing minister Meir Shetreet confirmed the report in the Haaretz newspaper that the pullout is now no longer at the top of Mr Olmert's agenda.

"It is my assessment the prime minister will not deal with this [the West Bank pullout] in the coming period, because it's really not on the agenda," Mr Shetreet said.

"I cannot say that the prime minister has dropped the plan. I don't think he has reached such a conclusion."

Our correspondent says there has been growing criticism of Israel's political and military leadership in recent days, with many Israelis are asking what was actually achieved in the weeks of fighting Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

The defence ministry has appointed a commission to investigate how the military campaign in Lebanon was conducted.