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Hebron Settlers Disappointed As Redeployment Talks Intensify

The Jewish settlers of Hebron are not getting the answers they seek.

In meetings with top-level Israeli officials this week, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, representatives from Hebron’s Jewish community warned that Israel is about to make a “fatal mistake” by redeploying Israeli troops in Hebron.

The meetings came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators intensified their discussions to reach a final agreement on the redeployment.

It also came amid reports that Jewish settlers had opened fire on Palestinian homes in Hebron.

Settler leaders, who have been warning of a bloodbath if the Palestinian Authority assumes control of Hebron, emerged dissatisfied from their meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday.

“We asked questions about security and civil matters, and didn’t get any answers,” Noam Arnon, the spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, told Israel Radio. “I think the country is about to make a fatal mistake.”

“These agreements can hold up as long as the situation is calm. But as soon as there are any arguments or misunderstandings with the Palestinians, they will collapse,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the settlers met with the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Oren Shahor, who negotiated civilian issues in the Hebron talks.

The settlers also emerged from that meeting disappointed, saying that the Hebron agreement would ultimately “strangle” the Jewish community there by not allowing it to grow.

Meanwhile, U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross continued his mediation efforts to complete the Hebron agreement.

“It’s clear that we have further narrowed the differences that exist, but we have not overcome those differences,” Ross told reporters after meeting Netanyahu in Haifa.

He was scheduled to hold talks later in the Gaza Strip with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was scheduled to travel this week to Europe.

“Clearly the pace of negotiations is affected when the leaders are not here,” Ross said, adding the clear hint that he would leave the region if Arafat left for Europe.

Israeli officials said Sunday that nearly all issues of dispute had been resolved in the negotiations.

Netanyahu told reporters that negotiations on Hebron were “at an advanced stage” and their conclusion rested solely on “Palestinian goodwill” to complete the process.

But Palestinian officials said a number of key points remained unresolved, including Israeli demands for freedom of movement in Palestinian areas to safeguard Hebron settlers.

The pins-and-needles atmosphere in Hebron was underscored Sunday after a shooting incident in which Jewish settlers reportedly got out of their cars and began firing on Palestinian houses along the road.

The settlers said they fired in the air after Palestinians threw rocks and bottles at them. There were no reported injuries.

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