Israel’s decision to dismantle largely uninhabited settlements has been seen as a first step in Sharon’s unilateral steps to ‘disengage’ with the Palestinians. In general the policy, which encompasses continued construction of the security wall around the West Bank, has been much criticised by the international community. Washington said it would oppose any ‘unilateral steps that block the road towards negotiations under the roadmap that leads to the two-state vision,’ said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. ‘A settlement must be negotiated and we would oppose any Israeli effort to impose a settlement.’

The decision to evacuate four outposts came two days after Israeli soldiers opened fire on a group of demonstrators protesting against the controversial wall. Two Israelis were wounded in the incident, which took place near the Palestinian village of Mahase.