Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday evening that disengagement from the Gaza Strip remains on track to be implemented on August 15, in accordance with the timetable previously approved by the government.

Speaking at the Caesarea Economic Forum in Jerusalem, Sharon said that he initiated the disengagement plan because he believes it is the best way to create needed national change.
‘Disengagement from the Gaza Strip will have important effects on all aspects and issues in the state,’ Sharon said. ‘It will improve the situation in Israel, and might motivate the Palestinians to stop violence.’
Sharon added that Israel decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip because it is an area which will not have a Jewish majority and will not be part of Israel in any future solution.
‘Therefore, we decided to increase the Jewish presence in the Negev, the Galilee, Greater Jerusalem (including east Jerusalem), settlement blocs in the West Bank, and all security zones,’ said Sharon.
‘Now the whole world knows that Israel is ready for painful concessions,’
Sharon said, adding that his plan strengthened the ‘coalition between the United States and Israel.’ He referred to the letter he received in April 2004 from US President George Bush, approving Sharon’s plan to annex settlement blocs in the West Bank and his rejection of Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
Sharon added that the Palestinians have to decide for the first time ‘if they want to build or destroy.’
Sharon also slammed right-wing extremists who are using violence in their activities against disengagement, describing them as ‘radical gangs’ that the government will handle ‘with an iron fist.’
Sharon told the Forum that he will distinguish between what he described as ‘the wider settler population’ and the ‘radical gangs who are trying to terrorize the Israeli society with their acts against the Jews and Arabs in the state’.
‘We will not allow anyone to raise a hand against an Israeli soldier or police officer. This is how we acted on Wednesday and Thursday when we evacuated the barricaded extremists in the Gush Katif hotel,’ Sharon said.
Sharon also criticized ministers who did not condemn the extremist settlers and their violent acts. ‘Those who have public influence and consider the country important should stand up and speak out against these violent acts,’ he said.