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Arafat Threatens New Violence if Hebron Talks Do Not Succeed

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adopted an ominous tone after this week’s negotiations on an Israeli redeployment in the West Bank town of Hebron remained deadlocked.

Addressing the Palestinian legislative council in Ramallah on Thursday, Arafat said he could not stop a new uprising from breaking out and that an explosion of violence was likely at any time in the West Bank and Gaza.

Arafat said he did not think that the talks at the Erez crossing had achieved any result and he called on the Palestinians to be prepared to confront all possibilities.

Meanwhile, the chief Palestinian negotiator at the talks, Saeb Erekat, said Israel had put forward 11 security-related demands to protect Jewish settlers in Hebron after the redeployment.

He added that the Palestinians were not willing to change one clause in the already-signed agreements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied Thursday that Israel was trying to reopen the agreements.

“All of the security arrangements with regard to Hebron fall within the framework of the Oslo accords,” he told the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce.

President Ezer Weizman, who hosted Arafat at his Caesarea home Tuesday, sharply criticized the Palestinian leader’s latest remarks, saying that they contradicted his more diplomatic remarks earlier in the week.

As a confidence-building measure, Israel said it would ease its closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and allow 35,000 Palestinian laborers to enter Israel starting Sunday, according to news reports.

In Washington, the State Department said Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, still in the region to mediate at the talks, had issued a statement Thursday that the two sides would reconvene next week, holding alternate sessions in Eilat and at the Egyptian resort of Taba.

In a separate development, Arafat’s second in command, Mahmoud Abbas, met Thursday with Labor Knesset member Haim Ramon and with Aryeh Deri, the parliamentary leader of the Shas Party, which is part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

“The meeting centered on the political situation,” Ramon, a leading contender for the Labor Party leadership, told Israel Radio. “It is important that these meetings take place.”

Palestinian sources said the meeting lasted four hours. Mohammed Dahlan, head of the Palestinian security service in Gaza, and Yossi Ginossar, a former senior Israeli intelligence official, also attended the meeting, the sources said.

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