Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have agreed to resume talks for implementing the self-rule accord signed last September in Washington.
The talks were scheduled to resume early next week at the Egyptian border town of Taba, according to a joint Israeli-PLO statement released Thursday by the Foreign Ministry here.
Israel also announced late Thursday that it would release an additional 101 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Israel was returning to Taba without preconditions.
But he added, “I believe today it is clear, it is written in the declaration of principles (that forms the basis of the self-rule accord), that Israel is responsible for external security,” an issue that led to the deadlock in the negotiations.
“The Israel Defense Force will be deployed all along the Jordan River and the western coast of the Dead Sea (and) all along the line between Egypt and the Gaza Strip,” he said.
The joint statement said the negotiations would be resumed on the basis of the declaration of principles and the “understandings” reached last week in Cairo.
Meanwhile, a delegation of U.S. congressional aides met Thursday in Tel Aviv with the families of six missing Israeli soldiers.
The aides are in the region to try to determine the MIAs’ fate. They are scheduled to travel to Syria and may also go to Lebanon.
In Damascus, meanwhile, the government radio station has reported that if Israel would withdraw from all occupied territories, it would enjoy peace on all fronts.
Such statements are being taken seriously here, according to Israel Radio. They are seen as being made in anticipation of the meeting later this month between Syrian President Hafez Assad and President Clinton.
The impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Cairo came after the PLO disputed Israeli claims that there had been an agreement reached last week.
According to the Israelis, there had been a clear understanding on who would control border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and between the West Bank town of Jericho and Jordan.
The two sides had also agreed on the size of the autonomous area around Jericho that would come under Palestinian authority, said the Israelis.
Israel has claimed the Palestinians were deviating not only from what had been agreed upon in Cairo, but from the declaration of principles signed on Sept. 13.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday’s joint statement means that the controversial issues of the control of border crossings and the dimensions of Jericho are no longer negotiable.
Peres said Israel will retain the right to control security at its external borders, adding that the “understanding” reached on the dimensions of Jericho would stand.
According to the draft documents from Cairo, Palestinian-controlled Jericho would be about 22 square miles.
Peres conceded that Israel had bowed to some demands by the PLO for stylistic changes in the Cairo draft.
But he said the Palestinians have learned that when Israel says it will not retreat from its security needs, it means it, Israel Radio reported.
Peres warned PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat against reneging on the latest joint statement.
“I think if (this happens) he will lose credibility,” Peres said.
The resumption of the talks was not a victory for Israel but an “achievement for peace,” Peres said. “And as long as the two parties are in favor of peace, it is a real achievement.”
The foreign minister declined to predict precisely how long it would take to conclude the talks and implement the accord.
“It depends upon the amount of difficulties we encounter as we go along,” he said. “But I believe that all of us intend to work continuously so we shall arrive at a conclusion at the earliest possible date.”
Peres said the Taba talks would focus on the transfer of civilian authority to the Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho, security on the roads leading in and out of the two areas, and the size and authority of a Palestinian National Council that is to be elected by next July.