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Sharon in Texas to meet with Bush

President to press U.S. objection on settlement expansion

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Israel's prime minister is in Texas to discuss a withdrawal plan.

Israeli police clash with ultra-nationalists during a protest.
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George W. Bush
Ariel Sharon

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon landed in Texas Sunday for a Monday meeting with President Bush amid a dispute between the allies over Israel's plan to expand a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Sharon's government has announced it plans to build 3,500 housing units in Ma'aleh Adumim, its largest settlement in the West Bank.

Sharon says the expansion would be a natural extension of a Jerusalem suburb, but the plans have drawn criticism from the Bush administration and infuriated Palestinians who envision Jerusalem as their future capital.

Bush said last week that he plans to press U.S. objections to the plan when he hosts Sharon at his ranch in Crawford. Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects the two leaders will hold "a very tough set of talks."

Meanwhile, the Israeli leader is facing criticism from many of his supporters as he presses plans to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Palestinian territories.

The plan to dismantle 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank this summer has divided Sharon's own Likud party. (Full story)

Sharon made no comment to reporters as he deplaned in Waco, about 25 miles east of Crawford.

Under the "road map" to peace -- sponsored by the Mideast Quartet of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- Israel must freeze settlement construction and dismantle outposts built in the Palestinian territories after Sharon took office in March 2001.

The road map sets out a path toward an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence, followed by a "final and comprehensive" settlement of the conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The road map also calls for the Palestinian Authority to dismantle "terrorist capabilities and infrastructure," including confiscating illegal weapons and consolidating security authority.

"The road map has clear obligations on settlements, and ... we expect the prime minister to adhere to those road map obligations," Bush told reporters Friday. (Full story)

In 2004, Bush endorsed Sharon's plan to keep the largest West Bank settlements under Israeli control in any Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

But now, after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Bush administration wants to work with his successor, Mahmoud Abbas -- and Sharon's support for expanding the West Bank settlement has ruffled feathers in Washington.

The Ma'aleh Adumim expansion plans have been approved by different Israeli governments over the past five years. But last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a "full stop" to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, saying it could jeopardize the Middle East peace process.

Lugar, an Indiana Republican, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" Sunday that Bush would reaffirm U.S. support for Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza, but "affirm our need to proceed on the road map."

"Our involvement there with the president tomorrow is extremely important," he said. "I hope there's follow-through now of really very successful, intensive United States diplomacy to help both parties."

Sharon has faced intense criticism of his plan to abandon Jewish settlements in Gaza.

"I don't think he profoundly believes in a two-state solution," former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told CNN. "But he understands in the current situation he cannot have both the West Bank and Gaza."

Bush is expected to urge Sharon to work closely with Abbas, whom some Israeli critics say has not been effective enough in disarming Palestinian militant groups.

During peace talks in Egypt on February 8, Sharon and Abbas announced a truce, and Palestinian militants declared a temporary cease-fire March 17. (Full story)

But hours ahead of Sharon's arrival in the United States, Israel Defense Forces said three Palestinian teenagers who were shot and killed by the Israeli military were involved in smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza.

Palestinian security sources had said the youths, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, were playing soccer when they were killed Saturday. (Full story)

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli police clashed with ultra-nationalist protesters who objected to plans to disengage from Gaza. (Full story)

CNN's Elaine Quijano and Guy Raz contributed to this report.

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