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The BBC's Paul Adams in Jerusalem
"Arafat says he's ready to negotiate but Israel wants him to stop the violence first"
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Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Legislative Council
"Nobody has the right to relinquish the right of return on behalf of the Palestinian refugees"
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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 22:31 GMT
Arafat 'hopeful' for peace deal
Yasser Arafat is surrounded by Esmat Abdel Meguid, Secretary General of the Arab League, right, and Egyptian adviser Osama al-Baz
Yasser Arafat was looking for support
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he is still hoping for a US-mediated peace agreement with Israel before President Clinton leaves office, despite the rejection of the key elements of US proposals by Arab states.

Q: Can you reach a final settlement before Clinton leaves office?
A: We hope so... according to the promise by President Clinton to make every possible effort before the period ends

Yasser Arafat to journalists
A meeting of Arab foreign ministers resolved that Palestinian refugees had a "sacred" right to return to their homes in what is now Israel.

Mr Arafat had been sounding out the ministers on the American suggestion that the Palestinians give up their UN-backed right of return in exchange for control of parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leader gave his conditional acceptance to the US plan on Tuesday, after talks with President Clinton.

Palestinian children from Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza
Palestinian refugees, and descendants, have been waiting since 1948
Asked whether he thought it was still possible to reach a deal before the US leader left office on 20 January, Mr Arafat said: "We hope so... according to the promise by President Clinton to make every possible effort before the period ends."

Lebanese rejection

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, who chaired the Cairo talks, said that the Arab stand backed reservations which Mr Arafat had given to Mr Clinton concerning the borders of a future Palestinian state, sovereignty over Jerusalem and the refugees.

He said Lebanon in particular "totally rejected" the idea of host countries absorbing refugees, adding, "we believe that" the right of the Palestinians to return "is a sacred right".

Displaced Palestinians infographic
For his part, the Syrian foreign minister reportedly said the US plan should not even be discussed, and the Arab League should instead concentrate on supporting the Palestinian uprising.

Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, which together house the majority of Palestinian refugees beyond the borders of pre-1948 Palestine, insist their views must be taken into account before any Israeli-Palestinian agreement is reached.

Before the talks, Mr Arafat held discussions with the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - who has often acted as a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Washington talks

Reported American proposals
Israel to concede sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque
Palestinians give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees
Palestinian state on 95% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip
Mr Barak's Chief of Staff, Gilad Sher, arrived in Washington on Thursday to discuss Mr Arafat's conditional acceptance of US proposals, and the White House said the Palestinians were expected to follow suit in the next few days.

The Israelis have said the Palestinian leadership must work to end "terrorism" in the area before peace talks can resume.

Top Israeli, Palestinian and American security officials are due to meet in Cairo on Sunday to try to reduce the violence, a senior Palestinian official has told the French news agency AFP.

Former resident of farmland near Jewish settlement of Dugit, Gaza
Israeli troops razed a large stretch of Palestinian farmland in Gaza
More than 350 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed since the Palestinians launched their uprising in September.

There were no reports of clashes as the diplomacy proceeded, but members of 10 Palestinian families in the northern Gaza Strip said they had been made homeless after Israeli army bulldozers razed houses and 75 acres of farmland near the Jewish settlement of Dugit.

The army said it had only demolished a toolshed used for shelter by Palestinian gunmen. The area witnessed a bomb explosion on Tuesday and a Palestinian farmer was killed when troops subsequently opened fire.

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Arab rulers cool on Intifada
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Right of return: Palestinian dream?
31 Dec 00 | Middle East
Barak: It's me or war
26 Dec 00 | Media reports
Israeli press wary of Clinton plan
23 Oct 00 | Middle East
Claiming the 'Promised Land'
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