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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Jerusalem
"Both sides say that these talks are serious, that the fundamental issues are on the table"
 real 56k

Friday, 26 January, 2001, 23:45 GMT
Mid-East agreement 'seems impossible'
Clashes in Ramallah
There were clashes in the Ramallah on Friday
Israelis and Palestinians have given grim assessments of the possibility of reaching a framework peace agreement by the 6 February prime ministerial elections in Israel.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak said progress had been made, but said: "Apparently it is not possible to manage in eight days to overcome all the remaining gaps."


We're closer to an agreement than ever. We see its parameters through a partially open door

Ehud Barak
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat echoed this, saying the gaps between the two sides were still too great.

Friday saw more clashes on the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Palestinians are reported to have been injured in fighting on the northern edge of Ramallah, where a few hundred youths threw rocks and bottles and rolled flaming tires at Israeli soldiers, who responded with by firing rubber- coated bullets.

Sporadic shooting was also reported in Gaza.

Arrests

The Israeli security forces say they have arrested six Palestinians in the West Bank in connection with armed attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians carried out in the last few months.

Palestinian rally in Rafah in Gaza
Armed Palestinians at a rally at Rafah in the Gaza Strip
In a statement, the Israeli army said they were members of a Palestinian elite unit called Force-17, which they said was responsible for the killing of at least seven Israelis, including a prominent leader of the extremist Jewish settler movement, Binyamin Kahane, and his wife.

The army said the Palestinians were being questioned by the Israeli intelligence service, Shin Bet.

Some hope

Israeli officials had earlier expressed hope that "some sort" of a peace deal could be reached in time for the elections.

"We are doing our very best to exhaust all possibilities to see if we can have some sort of an agreement," Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami at the close of another round of talks - broken off for the Jewish Sabbath.

Israeli PM Ehud Barak
Barak faces defeat in the prime ministerial elections
Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister who is also a negotiator, said that the talks will be "at the minimum a step forward."

Nabil Shaath, another senior Palestinian official earlier expressed cautious optimism about the talks.

"If we keep moving with the same energy and seriousness and covering all the areas we should be able to reach an agreement," Mr Shaath said.

Some progress

An agreement is widely seen as the only way for Mr Barak to avoid defeat in the elections.

Likud leader Ariel Sharon is a long way ahead in the polls. A victory for Mr Sharon is expected to be damaging to the peace process.

The negotiators were talking about refugees and the right of return, one of the thorniest issues in the talks.

Other working groups were looking at Jerusalem, borders and security matters.

Mr Shaath said the two sides were close to a deal on the borders of a Palestinian state

A solution on the border issue would imply agreement about the Jewish settlements.

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

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

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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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