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Arafat to hold talks in Egypt

Arafat
Arafat launched a stinging attack on Israel at the World Economic Forum  

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is expected to meet Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Monday -- a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he was putting peace talks on hold.

Palestinian officials say Arafat and Mubarak will meet in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

The news came as Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian during a confrontation near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, after three days of relative calm.

Mohammad Abu Moussa, 21, was shot in the stomach when troops and protesters clashed near the settlement of Neve Dekalim in what the Israel Defence Forces called an exchange of gunfire.

Israel Radio reported that Palestinians fired into the Gush Katif industrial area. No Israeli troops were injured.

The death raised to at least 313 the number of Palestinians killed since the uprising for independence began in last September. Forty eight Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have also died in the violence.

Arafat is insisting he is still committed to attempts to find peace, despite a blistering attack on Israel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday.

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"We don't want a breakdown in the peace process. We will continue with the peace process despite the difficulties we are facing," he said, after late-night talks with the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

Following Arafat's hardline speech -- against what he called the "savage and barbaric war" that Israel had waged on the Palestinians over the past four months -- Barak announced that he was suspending peace negotiations to concentrate on his re-election campaign.

Opinion polls ahead of the February 6 vote give hawkish challenger Ariel Sharon a lead of between 16 and 18 percent. Political analysts believe Barak, who won in a landslide just 21 months ago, will need a small miracle to keep his job.

Barak's hopes for a campaign-boosting breakthrough in peace talks were crushed when Israeli and Palestinian officials ended negotiations in Taba, Egypt, on Saturday.

The two sides issued a joint statement saying they were closer then ever to a deal but analysts believe that has not helped Barak's chances at the polls.

"There is no serious momentum of closing the gap," Yaacov Levy, of pollsters Gallup Israel, told Army radio.

Barak found himself under attack on two fronts on Sunday. In addition to Arafat's outspoken comments, in front of world business and political leaders, Sharon accused him of endangering Israel with his peace policies.

An outspoken foe of territorial compromises backed by Barak, Sharon accused the Israeli leader of trying to boost his election chances with a piece of paper.

"What we see today to my regret are steps that pose a danger to the state of Israel," Sharon told a Saturday night campaign event near Tel Aviv.

Despite Arafat's hard words, U.N. chief Annan said he had spoken several times by phone to Barak on Sunday and that the Israeli leader was encouraged by the outcome of the Taba talks.

"Like all of us he is encouraged by what happened in Taba. He also felt some of the things said in Davos were not conducive to the peace process. But I indicated that if one listens to the entire tape of what Chairman Arafat said perhaps it wasn't all that negative," Annan said.

Arafat and Israeli elder statesmen Shimon Peres met privately at the sidelines of the Davos summit after Arafat's stinging speech and Peres's own comments in which he publicly beseeched the Palestinian leader to put aside years of bitterness and "walk the last piece of the road for peace."

Peres said a historic peace treaty to end 52 years of conflict was within reach and could be concluded within weeks.

Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami described the five-day round of negotiations with the Palestinians in Taba as one of the most "serious, deep and detailed" ever.

The sides said they hoped the remaining gaps would be bridged after the election.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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Killings overshadow Mideast talks
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RELATED SITES:
PLO Negotiations Affairs Department
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
World Economic Forum
Palestinian National Authority

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