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Arafat and Peres hold meeting

Peres, left and Arafat
Peres, left, and Arafat clasp hands after giving their respective speeches in Majorca  

By CNN Correspondents Al Goodman and Jerrold Kessel

MAJORCA, Spain (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres held a brief, long-awaited face-to-face meeting early Saturday.

The meeting took place before their publicly scheduled joint appearance at a regional economic conference on the Spanish island of Majorca.

The meeting was the first direct encounter between Arafat and Peres since September 26, when they discussed terms for implementing a cease-fire.

Since then, scores of Palestinians and Israelis have been killed in the spiraling cycle of violence in the Middle East, which has included the assassination of Israel's tourism minister.

Palestinian sources said the meeting, which lasted about 10 to 15 minutes, was to discuss why the cease-fire did not take hold after September 26 and what the two sides could do to put it back on track.

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Israeli sources, however, said the meeting was held to co-ordinate Peres and Arafat's speeches at the opening of the second and final day of the Euro-Mediterranean Forum, which began at 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET).

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week made clear he did not want Peres to negotiate with Arafat at the conference, also attended by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and Peres has been at pains to say he has not been discussing the peace process with Arafat.

Arafat told reporters Sharon had made clear it would be Sharon himself who would direct any future peace negotiations.

The Palestinian leader emerged from Saturday's meeting saying he hoped it would lead the way back to substantive peace negotiations, and he told CNN that he is personally ready to begin such talks immediately with the Israelis, in any format.

Peres and Arafat's first joint appearance Friday came when the Spanish prime minister decided to hold a lunch first for Mubarak, then added Arafat and finally, shortly before lunch, also Peres.

CNN's request to have a camera present at the Peres-Arafat meeting Saturday was declined.


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