Netanyahu Claims Progress in Hebron Redeployment Talks

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators acknowledged this week that their talks on the Israeli army redeployment in Hebron had made progress, but neither side would commit to a completion date for their discussions.

Their comments came amid media reports that the two sides had resolved all the security issues involved in the redeployment and that they were fine-tuning the wording of the agreement.

According to the reports, the sides had agreed on a buffer zone separating the Jewish enclave in Hebron from the Arab neighborhoods and that Palestinian police in Hebron would be armed only with pistols.

Still unresolved, though, was the Israeli demand for the right to pursue terrorists into the areas of Hebron that would be turned over to Palestinian rule, according to the reports.

Also to be worked out were certain administrative issues, including whether the building of the Jewish enclave in Hebron could continue and whether it would require Palestinian approval, after Hebron came under self-rule.

Contacts continued Sunday between the heads of the various working committees after a weekend break in the formal talks.

Amid the optimistic comments about the talks’ progress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained cautious in his public statements.

Speaking during a visit Sunday to the Israel Defense Force command in the West Bank, he said he could not say whether an agreement would be reached this week, adding that the negotiations were still at a sensitive stage.

But at a news conference later in the day in Jerusalem, he said, “There has been progress, even considerable progress.”

But he added that it was crucial for the Palestinians “to stop using delaying tactics, to negotiate in good faith and to reach an agreement which will serve the interests on both sides.”

Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian source was quoted as saying that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was hoping to win concessions from Israel and was therefore in no rush to finalize an agreement.

For the first time since the talks began Oct. 7, Palestinian negotiators were optimistic over the weekend about the talks’ progress.

But Arafat, in an interview Sunday with Israel Radio, sounded a sour note, saying, “There is no progress now. They are doing their best to implement what has been agreed upon and what has been signed.”

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