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The BBC's Jim Fish
"There is little sight of the breakthrough that Ehud Barak needs"
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The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem
"The talks are on, but the violence hasn't stopped."
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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 22:08 GMT
Barak gloom over Mid-East
Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin (right) arriving in Taba for talks
Major differences have dashed hopes for an early deal
The Israeli leader, Ehud Barak, says it is unlikely there will be a peace deal with the Palestinians before Israel's prime ministerial elections next month.

When the Israelis admit that they took your land and that they should give you compensation for it... we consider this progress

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath
He was speaking shortly before the two sides resumed talks in the Egyptian resort of Taba, which have been overshadowed by continuing violence.

"I don't believe there will be an agreement by the elections" on 6 February, Mr Barak told Israeli businessmen.

The Israeli delegation left the talks late on Thursday to consult with Mr Barak. A Palestinian negotiator said "major differences" on security matters had arisen.

Ambushed Israeli motorist being carried into ambulance
The latest killing of an Israeli did not stop the peace talks

But an Israeli negotiator, Yossi Sarid, said the delegation's departure for Eilat in Israel "has nothing to do with what happened in Jerusalem".

He was referring to the drive-by killing of an Israeli civilian, ambushed while driving in the West Bank, near east Jerusalem.

A Palestinian group believed to be an offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction claimed responsibility for the attack.

The claim came from a group called "The Brigades of Thabet Thabet," Reuters news agency reported. Thabet Thabet, a senior Fatah official, was killed last month in what Palestinians described as an Israeli assassination.

Earlier on Thursday two more Palestinians died following overnight clashes with Israeli troops.

Israel suspended the peace talks after two Israeli restaurateurs were killed in the West Bank on Tuesday.

More than 380 people have died since the start of the Palestinian uprising nearly four months ago, the majority of them Palestinians.

Long haul

A statement from Mr Barak's office indicated that the talks could go on for some time.

Ehud Barak after addressing businessmen in Tel Aviv
Ehud Barak is trailing in the opinion polls

"The talks will continue for several more days and will be concluded due to the upcoming elections, with the intention of resuming them after the elections," the statement said.

A senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, was more upbeat.

"If we keep moving with the same energy and seriousness and covering all the areas we should be able to reach an agreement," he told Israeli army radio.

The Palestinians say the talks have already made progress on outlining the borders of a Palestinian state.

And Mr Shaath said there had also been progress on the contentious issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

"When the Israelis admit that they took your land and that they should give you compensation for it... we consider this progress in the Israeli position," the Associated Press reported him as saying.

The other main issues concern security and the status of Jerusalem.

Barak trailing

Mr Barak faces an uphill battle to defend his job from right-wing challenger Ariel Sharon, who leads in the polls.

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon wants the talks stopped

Mr Barak has been trying to woo Israeli Arabs to vote for him, as he has no realistic chance of victory without their support.

Reports say Mr Barak might hold talks with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, at the World Economic Forum conference that opened in Switzerland on Thursday.

West Bank killings

Thousands of Israelis attended the funerals on Thursday of Motti Dayan, 27, and Etgar Zeituni, 34, who were killed on Tuesday in the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

It was their deaths that led Mr Barak to suspend the Taba talks.

The Israeli restaurateurs had apparently gone to Tulkarm with an Israeli Arab friend to buy dishes for their sushi restaurant.

The Palestinian Authority says it has arrested four men in connection with the killings.

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See also:

25 Jan 01 | Middle East
Israeli shot dead in West Bank
18 Jan 01 | Middle East
Bloody end to Mid-East 'internet tryst'
22 Jan 01 | Middle East
Israeli child-killer escapes jail
28 Sep 00 | Middle East
Holy Jerusalem: The key to peace
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