Rabin and Arafat Set to Sign Accord, 7 Weeks After Empowerment Talks Began

Officially launching the next phase of the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat are planning to sign an agreement Sunday that will extend Palestinian authority over five key areas of civilian life throughout the West Bank.

The agreement on the so-called “early empowerment” — which will give Palestinian officials control over education, health, welfare, taxation and tourism in the West Bank — comes seven weeks after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began meeting in Cairo to hammer out the details of the transfer of responsibilities.

News of the signing, which is scheduled to take place at the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, was carried in an Israeli television report on Wednesday. The report aired as the two teams of negotiators meeting in Cairo were preparing to initial the series of agreements they had reached.

The accords call for the transfer of authority to go into effect by Sept. 12 at the latest.

On Wednesday, the first official transfer already began in one area of responsibility: education.

At a ceremony in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Israeli authorities handed over to the Palestinians control over some 150 schools in the town and its surrounding villages.

Israel was expected to transfer control over schools in the West Bank’s six remaining school districts by the end of the week.

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