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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 04:14 GMT 05:14 UK
Setback for West Bank talks
Palestinian woman protests in the West Bank
Many Palestinians are sceptical about Israeli plans to withdraw
Talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have failed to set a timetable for the return to Palestinian control of two West Bank towns.

After four hours of talks on Sunday, a Palestinian spokesman said there would be no withdrawal from Qalqilya and Jericho on Monday or Tuesday.

However, the sides agreed to continue the talks.

Elias Zananieri, spokesman for Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan, said the problem lay in Israel's refusal to dismantle an army checkpoint leading to Qalqilya.

"We reject this completely. It goes against the agreement between Dahlan and (Israeli Defence Minister Shaul) Mofaz," Mr Zananieri said.

Mr Mofaz and Mr Dahlan had agreed on Friday that four towns should be handed over.

Qalqilya and Jericho were expected to be transferred this week, followed by Tulkarm and Ramallah.

After a week of violence that saw the killing of an Islamic Jihad leader in Hebron and two subsequent suicide bombings which left two Israelis dead, both sides had pledged to press on with the international peace plan known as the road map.

The BBC's Simon Wilson in Jerusalem says both sides are aware of the danger of a return to violence if the diplomacy stagnates. But he says each side appears to be fearful of making significant concessions at this point.

Fragile ceasefire

Israel had earlier on Sunday welcomed efforts by the Palestinian Authority to rein in militants and lay the groundwork for the transfer of control.

Major-General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, chief of military intelligence, told the Israeli cabinet that the authority had been making efforts in the previous 48 hours to stop militant attacks.

All talk of withdrawal does not mean anything when they are increasing checkpoints
Yasser Arafat

A fragile three-month ceasefire, agreed by three leading Palestinian militant groups in late June, is still just about holding.

However, it was further tested by the arrest in Qalqilya early on Sunday of one of Islamic Jihad's leaders, Akif Nazal, 38.

He was held, along with another suspected militant, by the Israeli army.

A top Islamic Jihad official, Mohammed al-Hindi, told the French news agency AFP the arrest was "new evidence that Israel is continuing its escalation policy in the region to destroy efforts by all parties to cool the situation".

Sticking point

The Palestinian Authority's information minister, Nabil Amr, has said the authority's cabinet is backing Israel's move to leave the four towns.

Israel will require the containment of militants in the towns.

A senior Israeli official said Israel and the Palestinians hoped to finalise arrangements on "supervising wanted men" that did not necessarily entail imprisonment.

"If they are not behind bars, we will want at least to know where they are," he said.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Jerusalem says Israeli control of access is bound to be a sticking point as Palestinians say lack of freedom of movement is their biggest concern.

Any agreement could also collapse if more violence flares, he says.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has poured scorn on the proposed pullout, saying Israel should stick to the agreed "roadmap" for peace.

"We want Israel to implement what was mentioned in the roadmap instead of wasting time. This is a clear attempt at partitioning and to go around the roadmap," Mr Arafat said on Sunday.

The roadmap is a three-phase plan that aims to reach a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians within two years.

The BBC's Chris Morris
"This latest deal hangs by a thread"

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