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Israel Rejoins Refugee Talks After All-night Negotiations

Israel returned to multilateral peace talks on Middle East refugees here after receiving assurances that the head of the Palestinian delegation was no longer a member of a group affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Israeli delegation had walked out of the talks Wednesday because it objected to participation by Mohammad Hallaj, a member of the Palestine National Council.

“Hallaj is not currently a member of the PNC,” said Israeli delegation spokeswoman Ruth Yaron, after all-night negotiations to resolve the crisis.

Israeli officials said they had received written assurances from the United States concerning Hallaj’s current status.

Canadian government spokesman Rodney Moore told reporters that Hallaj’s membership in the PNC had “lapsed” in 1991. His statement was in contrast with Hallaj’s own reiteration upon his arrival here that he was a member of that body.

The formula for overcoming the impasse came after Israel charged the Palestinians with violating an understanding reached Oct. 9 through Egyptian mediation.

Under that understanding, Israel agreed to lift the ban imposed by the previous Likud government on participation by Palestinians living outside the territories, in return for assurances on the exclusion of those directly associated with the PLO.

Israel had boycotted the earlier round of refugee talks held here last May.

Joining the conference table on Thursday, Israeli delegation head Shlomo Ben- Ami called on Palestinians to join as “full partners” in the international peace effort.

He pointed out Israel’s own status as a haven for refugees. “A nation of refugees like ours must be actively involved in the search for humane solutions to the plight of refugees,” he said.

He said the two days of multilateral talks attended by 38 nations helped bolster the negotiations taking place at the bilateral level in Washington.

Israel came to Ottawa prepared to discuss substantive issues raised in its absence at the previous round, said Yohanan Bein, co-chairman of the delegation.

“We have plans for all the subjects that were discussed here last May; job creation, public health, family reunification among them,” he said. Meanwhile, in Israel, Likud Knesset members protested the decision to rejoin the talks, saying the new assurances about Hallaj were yet another example of how the United States was misleading Israel in the peace negotiations.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem.)

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