Peres and Arafat Negotiate Unresolved Autonomy Issues

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat met this week to negotiate unresolved issues in the Palestinian self-rule accord.

Meeting Monday near the Erez checkpoint separating Gaza Strip from Israel, the two leaders said that they had made progress on such issues as safe passage routes for Palestinians traveling between Gaza and the West Bank Jericho enclave, Israeli recognition of Palestinian passports and the establishment of additional Palestinian industrial zones.

They also said that Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would meet Jan. 19 for a discussion on the next phase of the peace process, which includes the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and the concurrent holding of Palestinian elections.

They said that details of the Rabin-Arafat meeting would not be made public in the hope that this would help expedite progress on those issues.

After meeting privately for a half hour, Peres and Arafat joined delegations from both sides for additional talks.

Israeli sources said after the meeting with Arafat that the Israeli side had demonstrated new flexibility regarding the release of Palestinian female prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Arafat, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said the prisoner issue would be taken up by a joint committee comprising minister form both sides.

Peres, Arafat and their aides appeared relaxed after their meeting, despite tensions between the two sides in the wake off ongoing violence both on the Gaza border and in the West Bank.

The latest incident – which caused no casualties – occurred just hours before the Monday meeting.

A donkey cart laden with explosives was detonated on the main Gaza highway near the Gaza settlement of Kfar Darom just as an Egged bus carrying schoolchildren from the Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip drove past with its Israeli army escort.

But most of the charge failed to explode, and no one was hurt in the partial blast that did take place. Army sappers later blew up the remaining explosives.

Asked about this incident and about the rash of terror attacks on Israeli targets inside Gaza and across the border, Arafat claimed his police were doing their best. He said that Israel was also unable to claim total success in the fight against terrorism.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators also met Monday in Cairo to discuss procedural issues related to Palestinian elections.

The two sides agreed to avoid discussions related to the thorny security issue of Israeli troop withdrawals, which has threatened to derail the talks on more than one occasion.

Peres said Monday that such “sensitive” issues would only be negotiated by himself, Arafat and Rabin.

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