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Thursday, August 19, 1999 Published at 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK

World: Middle East

Wye peace talks resume

Khalil el-Rai, a Palestinian prisoner, celebrates his release

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat returned to the negotiating table on Thursday evening in an attempt to break the latest deadlock in the Wye land-for-secruity deaI.

Middle East
Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians broke down 24 hours earlier over the hugely sensitive issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners. Both sides later denied any deadlock.

[ image: Mr Erekat: Back at the table]
Mr Erekat: Back at the table
Mr Erekat, who had walked out of the talks, played down the dispute. "We are continuing to exert maximum efforts in order to reach an agreement," he said.

The latest round of talks, which began on Tuesday, has focused on the timetable for releasing Palestinians held prisoner by Israel.

The row was triggered by Israeli insistance that they would not release anyone held for killing or injuring Israelis.

Political offences

The Palestinians are demanding that the Israelis release at least as many as 650 prisoners held for what they regard as political offences.

The government press office said Israel would agree to review the releases on a case-by-case basis, but "at this stage there is no change in the criteria".

The government position is the same as that of the previous administration of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Palestinians say that a swift release of prisoners will be a key confidence-building measure.

The issue of the pace of Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank remains in deadlock.

[ image: Ehud Barak:
Ehud Barak: "No change in the criteria"
Since Ehud Barak's election as prime minister initial high hopes for a new momentum to the peace process have faded.

BBC Jerusalem Correspondent Hilary Andersson says the current disagreement is secondary to the bigger problem of agreeing a timetable for the land handovers also called for by the Wye agreement.

She says the fact that the two sides cannot even agree on how to implement a signed agreement does not augur well for the far more difficult issues lying ahead.

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