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World - Middle East

Middle East peace talks will go into Monday

Israelis, Palestinians and Americans will be meeting for a fifth day  

Deal said to be close, but differences remain

October 18, 1998
Web posted at: 9:53 p.m. EDT (0153 GMT)

QUEENSTOWN, Maryland (CNN) -- Amid indications that a deal may be close at hand, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and their American mediators have decided to extend the Middle East peace summit into Monday.

"We believe it is in the best interest of the peace process to continue these discussions," said White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. To that end, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to stay overnight at the rural Maryland resort where the talks are taking place.

Sources from both sides told CNN that while an agreement was close, some unresolved issues remain. Even if a deal should be reached, differences between the two sides may mean that the deal won't be a comprehensive one, sources say.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said that although no official agreements had been reached, "certainly some pieces of paper exist in the hands of various delegations."

"There is time to complete the work if the political will is still there -- and the political will is there," Rubin said.

President Bill Clinton spent Sunday at the summit, having separate private meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. However, Netanyahu and Arafat have not met directly with each other since Friday.

Earlier in the day, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and newly appointed Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon flew into nearby Easton airport to join Netanyahu's negotiating team.

Land exchanges, terrorism focus of talks

The summit began Friday. The Palestinians want the Israelis to agree to withdraw from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank. The Israelis want the Palestinians to give concrete guarantees that they will crack down on terrorism by Islamic militants based in Palestinian-controlled areas.

An agreement would pave the way for adoption of a final peace settlement between the two sides that, under the Oslo peace accords, is supposed to happen by May 1999.

Sources close to the negotiations tell CNN that an agreement on the 13 percent land withdrawal is nearly complete, but other sticking points remain.

Palestinian sources told CNN that during a 90-minute private meeting between Arafat and Clinton, Arafat emphasized two main issues:

First, after Israel turns over the 13 percent of West Bank land, Arafat wants the Jewish state to make a further withdrawal from West Bank territory. And second, Arafat is pushing for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

For their part, Israelis are pushing for definitive security guarantees from the Palestinians and the revocation of a provision in the Palestinian charter that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. They also want to extend the May 1999 deadline for a final settlement, and they want the Palestinians to extradite fugitives from Israeli justice.

The United States has backed Israel in its call for protection from Palestinian militants and the uprooting of terrorist cells in land already controlled by Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Sources tell CNN that Arafat has proposed a compromise in which a U.S. committee would oversee Palestinian security operations. A hot line also would be established to deal with Israeli security concerns.

Correspondents Andrea Koppel and Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.

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