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Sunday, August 8, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK

World: Middle East

Arafat agrees to peace timetable

Mr Arafat says he is unwilling to see any more delays

The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he will accept a request by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to delay the implementation of key elements of the Wye peace accord by three weeks.

Middle East
"He had promised me that implementation would be in August but if he wants to implement in September we accept," he said. "The important thing is that Mr Barak implement the agreements."

But he warned that there had been too many delays already and called for speedy action on issues including prisoner release and approval for a seaport in Gaza.

Security guarantees

Correspondent Barbara Plett: Statement was a public climbdown
The Wye accord covers Israeli troop withdrawals and the handover of land in the West Bank in return for Palestinian guarantees on security.

Earlier, Mr Barak reaffirmed that Israel would honour the accord beginning in September, with troop withdrawals from the West Bank to begin in early October.

Peace talks between the sides have been deadlocked over Israel's reluctance to implement all of the Wye agreement, under which it is to withdraw from another 11% of the West Bank.

The former Israeli government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu handed back 2% of the land, then froze the agreement.

The deal means Palestinians could gain control of more West Bank land by early October.

Final withdrawal

By accepting Israel's September timetable, Mr Arafat may unblock a current stalemate in peace talks, but BBC Jerusalem correspondent Barbara Plett says that he will be less willing to accept Israel's request to delay the third and final troop withdrawal until early next year.

The final stage will isolate several Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, and Mr Barak wants to prevent any friction that could harm chances to conclude a permanent peace deal.

Mr Barak says he expects to hold further talks soon with the Palestinian leadership on whether they would accept a request to delay the third phase until an outline for a permanent peace accord was agreed.

The Palestinians say they want an immediate implementation of the accord before going on to the difficult negotiations for a final peace agreement.

This will cover tough issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees.

In a related development, a Palestinian official said on Sunday that a planned visit by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the region had been postponed from mid-August until early September.

Israeli media reports said that Mr Barak had asked Mrs Albright to delay her visit to give him time to smooth out problems with the Palestinians.

The Ha'aretz newspaper said Mr Barak wanted the Secretary of State's visit to focus on mediation with Syria.

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