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World - Middle East

Palestinian sources: Compromise reached on Israeli withdrawal

But chief negotiators deny progress

August 25, 1999
Web posted at: 7:14 p.m. EDT (2314 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian sources said Wednesday they have reached a compromise with Israeli negotiators on the timetable of a final withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank -- a key element in last year's Wye River land-for-security accord.

However, the chief negotiators of both sides publicly denied that any progress was made in resuming implementation of the stalled peace deal.

Israel, which must still carry out two more troop pullbacks under Wye, has agreed to complete the withdrawals by January 15, 2000, the Palestinian sources said, a full month earlier than Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had previously proposed.

The withdrawals would boost the amount of West Bank land under full or partial Palestinian control to about 40 percent of the territory, up from the 20 percent Palestinians control now.

Palestinian sources said the only remaining stumbling block to finalizing the implementation of the Wye accord was the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

They said the two sides had serious disagreements on the number of prisoners to be freed and their "category," a reference to the kinds of offenses the prisoners are charged with committing.

The sources said in earlier talks that the two sides had agreed on the safe passage of Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza, as well as on allowing the Palestinians to begin construction of a port in Gaza in October.

'We didn't reach any agreement'

However, Israeli negotiator Gilad Sher, who has said there will be no agreement until all the elements are settled, said nothing had been decided.

"We didn't reach any agreement," he said Wednesday.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, emerging from six hours of talks with Sher in Jerusalem, said he had canceled a trip to Washington so he could continue to push for a deal.

Struggle for Peace
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    "We will continue tomorrow, and we hope to be in a position to finalize the two issues of the prisoners and the time frame for further redeployment," Erakat said.

    Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the Wye deal last October with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, but then froze its implementation in December, accusing the Palestinians of failing to live up to their security responsibilities.

    Barak has pledged to resume Israeli troop withdrawals in October. But he had asked to delay the last pullback until February, so as to incorporate the Wye accord into a final peace agreement with the Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the possibility of a Palestinian state.

    The Palestinians have rejected any delay, demanding Barak fulfill the Wye agreement regardless of final status negotiations.

    Both sides hope to have a deal on implementing Wye in time for a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who arrives in the Middle East on Friday.

    Reuters contributed to this report.

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    Palestinian National Authority
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