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Powell: Israel too slow on outposts

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday he was disappointed with the slow pace of Israel's dismantlement of settlement outposts in Palestinian territory.

After a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Powell said the two had an "open and candid discussion" about the settlement issue.

Powell said he told the minister "that we have some disappointment in the rate at which outposts had been removed."

"The minister gave me assurances that they are hard at work on that. And we'll be exchanging more information on the subject," Powell said.

Shalom said that "Israel is committed to remove the unauthorized outposts," which it is required to do under the so-called road map to peace sponsored by United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

"While the Palestinians are not doing anything, we would like to implement our commitments," Shalom said.

He said that Israel had already removed "tens of outposts" and had given the Bush administration a list of 28 remaining ones.

Powell and Shalom also discussed Israeli plans to withdraw from the Palestinian territories.

While the focus has been on Israel's proposed withdrawal from Gaza, Powell said President Bush "is committed to supporting Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon in this effort, with the understanding and the acknowledgment that it will involve the West Bank."

Sharon has called for the Israelis to withdraw from Gaza and portions of the West Bank in stages. Polls conducted by Israeli media indicate the majority of Israelis support Sharon's plan.

The Israeli disengagement plan also includes the building of a barrier -- already under construction -- that Israel says will block Palestinians from attacking Israel from the West Bank.

Palestinians call the barrier a land grab, saying it leaves many Palestinians cut off from farms, schools and hospitals as it winds its way through portions of the West Bank.

Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War and began building settlements there soon after.

There are about 230,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements. Gaza is home to about 7,500 Jewish settlers.

Powell and Shalom also talked about recent efforts by Egypt to get the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terrorism and consolidate its security forces.

Shalom spoke of the special influence the United States has in the Middle East, saying it has "the key to make both parties to go together and to move toward a more positive attitude toward the peace process."

"It's very important that every process in the Middle East should be led by the Americans," he said.

Shalom asked the United States to pressure the Palestinians to stop terrorist attacks against Israel.

He also called on the Bush administration not to support a ruling against the West Bank barrier by the International Court of Justice that is expected later this week.

If the court decides the fence is illegal, the nonbinding ruling will go to the U.N. General Assembly for possible action.

Shalom called on the Americans "not to give the Palestinians the opportunity to try to arrange a big party next week in the United Nations."

He said he told Powell that Israel would continue to build the fence because it has "brought a huge decline in attacks" by Palestinians and has eliminated the need for as many as 80 roadblocks within the territories.

The Bush administration Tuesday called on Israel to move quicker to ease hardships on Palestinians by dismantling the remaining settlement outposts and removing more roadblocks.

"Those are all things that they themselves have made commitments on," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "And as long as these things are not resolved, they're issues of concern to us."

Heavy West Bank fighting

Earlier Tuesday, Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants in the Ein Bei Ilma refugee camp of Nablus in what an Israel Defense Forces spokesman described as heavy fighting during an ongoing operation to round up wanted Palestinians.

One Israeli soldier died in the firefight and three were wounded, according to the IDF.

Palestinian medical sources said four Palestinians were killed, including two militants -- Yamin Faraj, the West Bank military leader for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and his deputy. Three Palestinians were wounded -- two women and a man.

Elsewhere, two armed Palestinians were killed Tuesday near an Israeli outpost on Kissufim Road, Israeli military and Palestinian security sources said.

According to Israeli military sources, two Palestinian militants opened fire on and threw grenades at the outpost. An explosive device was found near their bodies, the Israeli sources said.

The fighting followed weekend of scattered violence in which four people died. (Full story)

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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