Talks Continue on Hebron, Dashing Hopes for Conclusion

Hopes for the imminent conclusion of an agreement on Hebron were deflated as the week drew to a close.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continued contacts Thursday evening in an attempt to close the final gaps in the agreement for redeploying Israeli troops in the tense West Bank town.

But officials from both sides doubted that the agreement would be concluded overnight.

A senior Israeli political source told reporters that he doubted the agreement would be brought before the Israeli Cabinet for approval at its weekly Friday meeting.

Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat told reporters in the Gaza Strip that he was “not optimistic” a deal would be signed this week.

Further dashing expectations that the agreement would soon be signed, U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross left the region Thursday.

U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said in Paris that Washington did not expect an agreement to be concluded in the next day or two.

Reports said the main stumbling block in the talks was the Israeli demand for freedom of movement in Hebron’s Arab neighborhoods to pursue suspected terrorists.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Jordan’s King Hussein on Thursday and asked him to press Arafat to conclude an agreement.

The Israeli premier also telephoned President Clinton to brief him on the latest developments.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu canceled his planned trip to the United States in order to see the talks through what his office termed “this sensitive stage.”

Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai on Thursday ordered all available Israeli forces to Hebron to make preparations for the redeployment, which was causing growing apprehension among Jewish residents of Hebron.

Members of the Yesha Council, which represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, said some protest actions against the redeployment could begin next week, including sit-in demonstrations and protests.

NEXT STORY