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Hilary Andersson reports for BBC News
"The two sides have set a deadline for reaching an agreement""
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Tuesday, 4 January, 2000, 20:29 GMT
West Bank deal reached

West Bank Israel is to withdraw from another 5% of the region

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have signed an agreement on a long-delayed Israeli transfer of more West Bank land to the Palestinian authority.

Middle East
The two sides signed the maps outlining the withdrawal from a further 5% of the West Bank, due last November.

The pullback is scheduled to take place within the next 48 hours.

The withdrawal is the second of three stipulated in the latest Israeli-Palestinian interim accord signed in September.

Jewish settlers on the West Bank Jewish settlers remain a stumbling block in the peace process
Israel was ready to carry out the pullback by the 15 November deadline, but the Palestinians refused to accept the territory, saying the land Israel offered was too sparsely populated and did not connect areas already under Palestinian control.

Neither side has so far disclosed how this problem was overcome.

Mr Erekat said Israel made no concessions to the Palestinians on the areas of the West Bank it will hand over under the deal.

"All I can say now is that a satisfactory understanding was reached," he told Israeli public radio.

'Step on the road'

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat welcomed the agreement.

"This is a step on the road to implementing what we had agreed in Sharm el-Sheikh," he said in Gaza.

The breakthrough paves the way for a further land handover, scheduled in the Sharm el Sheik accord to take place later this month.

The agreement set out a programme which is due to culminate in the signing of a final peace accord between the Palestinians and the Israelis in September.

The two sides have set themselves a February deadline to reach a framework accord on the final status of the Palestinian territories, but correspondents say they remain far apart on key issues - including the future of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, borders and refugees.

However, before the latest talks began, Mr Erekat said new lists of Palestinian prisoner releases would be discussed.

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