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Peres, Arafat Discuss Ways to Protect Peace Agreements

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Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, after Israel temporarily barred Arafat from flying to the West Bank for the meeting.

Peres and Arafat originally were scheduled to meet in the West Bank town of Ramallah, but the location was changed after Israeli authorities refused to allow Arafat’s helicopter flight to the West Bank, saying that his permit had not been approved by the proper authorities.

Amid accusations that the move was politically motivated and aimed to prevent the meeting, Israel granted approval for the flight about four hours after it was initially denied.

The prime minister’s communications adviser, David Bar Ilan, denied that the government had flip-flopped on the issue, saying that the delay in issuing the permit had been caused by a misunderstanding, not political considerations.

Palestinian officials charged that the incident was an attempt to obstruct the peace process.

The speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, Ahmed Karia, called it a “flagrant violation” of the self-rule accords.

After meeting, Peres and Arafat told reporters that their discussions focused on ways to protect the peace process.

Peres said he had no desire to attack the Netanyahu government, but added, “I feel deeply obligated by every promise we made on behalf of the [previous Labor] government, on behalf of the Israeli people.”

Earlier, Arafat canceled a meeting of the joint Israeli-Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee to protest the initial Israeli refusal to permit two of his helicopters to fly from Gaza to the West Bank.

Some Palestinian officials said the permit had been personally denied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu lashed out at Peres earlier this week, saying that the opposition leader was undermining the government by holding an unauthorized meeting with the Palestinian leader.

Labor Party officials countered that when he was leader of the opposition, Netanyahu had met with Jordan’s King Hussein and with Morocco’s King Hassan.

Peres is scheduled to fly next week to Morocco, on what he described as a “private visit.” He is expected to meet with Hassan.

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