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Three-week Deadline Set for Final Deal on Taba

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A three-week deadline has been set to conclude the bogged down Israeli-Egyptian negotiations over Taba, which have resulted in harsh criticism of Israel by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Talks will resume Monday as a result of a compromise procedure proposed by the United States. It is expected to settle the outstanding issues surrounding the beach enclave on the Gulf of Aqaba and its resort facilities.

Feb. 26 is the date set for an agreement between the two sides, followed promptly by Israel’s withdrawal from Taba, which was awarded to Egypt by international arbitration last year.

The final negotiations, begun two weeks ago, degenerated into an angry confrontation between Cairo and Jerusalem.

Israel refused Egypt’s demand that it pull out of Taba before final agreements were reached on a variety of matters.

Egyptian leaders, including President Hosni Mubarak, accused the Israelis of bad faith.

Abraham Sofaer, the U.S. State Department’s legal adviser to the Taba talks, offered a compromise proposal that resulted in telephone conversations over the weekend between Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and his Egyptian counterpart, Esmat Abdel Meguid.

Arens told the Cabinet Sunday that compromise was essential to avoid a serious breach between the two countries.

At the suggestion of the United States, the negotiating teams will divide into committees, meeting at Taba and in Cairo. One committee, meeting in Taba on Monday, will take up the issue of Israeli access to the area after it reverts to Egyptian ownership.

Another committee, to sit in Cairo later in the week, will negotiate the price Egypt is to pay the owners of the Avia Sonesta Hotel and the Rafi Nelson Vacation Village, resorts built and managed by Israelis which are Taba’s only tangible assets.

The committees are to report to the plenary group on Feb. 26. It is composed of Israeli and Egyptian negotiators and American observers.

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