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Next month, immediately after the end of the Jewish holiday Passover, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to announce a three-week delay in plans to evacuate the Gaza Strip, a government official said Friday.

Sharon, who had fended off attempts to stall the evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank, has said in recent days he would consider a postponement, ostensibly because of a Jewish mourning period marking the destruction of the biblical temples.

But politicians and analysts speculated the delay was proposed because the government was far behind schedule in evacuating and relocating the 9,000 settlers in the affected communities.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz agreed Thursday with the plan to push back the evacuation from late July until Aug. 15.

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