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Israel to Sell Har Homa Plots: Washington Peace Talks Stall

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Israel’s Housing Ministry intends to begin marketing plots of land soon at a controversial project that derailed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations earlier this year.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, citing a ministry forecast report for 1998 and 1999, reported that some 1,000 plots of land would be offered next year at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, with another 300 going on sale in 1999.

The Palestinians halted negotiations in March, when Israel began infrastructure work at Har Homa.

The first phase of excavations was recently concluded at the site, where some 6,500 housing units are planned.

According to the report, the ministry also plans to sell some 9,000 housing units in West Bank settlements during the next two years.

The report was published as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Washington to discuss issues that were slated to include a “timeout” on Israeli settlement construction.

The two sides were also to discuss security cooperation, launching the final- status talks and issues left over from the 1995 Interim Agreement, including the redeployment of Israeli troops from rural areas of the West Bank and the opening of a Palestinian seaport and airport in the Gaza Strip.

The talks got off to a rocky start Monday, when U.S. mediators complained that the Palestinian Authority had not sent enough experts on issues related to the Interim Agreement.

Palestinian officials said that additional negotiators would arrive later in the week.

The talks had already been delayed a week because Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy postponed his trip to Washington, saying he needed specific negotiating instructions from his government.

American officials said Monday that they were irritated by what they viewed as political gamesmanship on the part of both sides.

The talks hit another snag when the two sides could not agree on what should come first on the agenda.

But after U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross stepped in to mediate, the two sides held discussions Tuesday at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va.

The site was chosen in an effort to convene the discussions away from the media spotlight.

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