Palestinians Say They Want Police Force of About 30,000

The third round of autonomy talks in the Sinai border town of Taba ended this week with Palestinian delegates saying they want a police force of 25,000 to 30,000 to patrol the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho after Israeli forces withdraw.

The Palestinians said the police force would have to be equipped with helicopters, boats, machine guns and armored vehicles to help ensure security in the two regions.

The security committee, one of several panels meeting in Taba, reportedly made progress on the composition, size and weapons of the Palestinian police force. But no details were released.

Although the Israelis and Palestinians disagreed on the size of the force, the tone of the talks at the Egyptian Red Sea resort was mostly upbeat.

Members of another panel, the confidence building subcommittee, lunched together, joined by top officials of the Israel Defense Force and Palestine Liberation Organization and former Palestinian deportees.

There was, however, some friction over the Israeli timetable for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

A member of the Israeli delegation to the talks reportedly angered the Palestinians by saying the subcommittee on confidence-building measures did not have authority over the issue.

Some Palestinians have accused the Israelis of breaking a promise to free some 12,000 prisoners it is holding.

On Monday, Israel released 617 security prisoners. The Palestinians said Wednesday they were awaiting word on a timetable for future releases.

The Palestinian delegates to the Taba talks submitted a formal protest on the prisoner release, and a brief meeting was held Thursday to address the issue.

But, contrary to expectations, no prisoner releases were announced.

A protest demonstration was held in Jericho on the matter, which is of high priority to the Palestinians.

MEDIA ACCUSED OF OBSTRUCTING TALKS

About 40 khaki-clad Palestinian men broke through an IDF line and marched through the town accompanied by several dozen women who held aloft pictures of family members still in Israeli prisons. The demonstration proceeded without incident.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin has accused the media of hindering progress at the Taba talks and said that privately held negotiations prevent counterproductive public posturing by delegates.

On Thursday, he compared the current talks to the secret negotiations held earlier this year in Oslo, Norway.

It was the back-channel talks, which went unreported, that resulted in a draft of the selfrule accord Israel and the PLO signed Sept. 13 in Washington, he pointed out.

The stakes are expected to rise at next week’s talks in Taba, where the boundaries of Palestinian autonomy will be negotiated.

Meanwhile, 10 members of the opposition Likud party are due to leave for Tunis in 10 days at the invitation of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, according to reports on Israel Radio.

The trip is unusual because the party is on record as opposing Israel’s recent recognition of the PLO and the agreement the two sides signed regarding autonomy in Gaza and Jericho.

There apparently is some discontent within Likud over the visit, which was arranged without consultation with the party leadership. The Likud officials making the trip belong to the party’s central committee or head local councils.

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