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Hilary Andersson reports for BBC News
"Tensions were running high"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:49 GMT
Barak turns to Palestinians

West Bank The talks focused on withdrawals from the West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has held unscheduled talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to try and resolve the latest row over troop withdrawals from the West Bank.

Middle East
Mr Barak has said he wants to delay the next pullout by three weeks, a decision the Palestinians say is unacceptable.

The four-hour meeting was hastily arranged after peace talks in the United States between Israel and Syria were suddenly put on hold two days before they were due to resume.

The Palestinians have recently expressed fears that Israel is neglecting them as it focuses its attentions on trying to make peace with Syria.

Yasser Arafat Mr Arafat: Delays are unacceptable

Mr Barak's office said the meeting with Mr Arafat was "good and constructive" and helped boost trust between the sides.

Israeli radio said the main matter under discussion was how to set new deadlines for reaching a peace accord.

The two sides have been working towards reaching a framework accord for a final deal by 13 February.

But the BBC's Jerusalem correspondent Hilary Andersson says the current deadline has become unrealistic with the two sides still discussing maps for the next Israeli land transfer due to take place this week.

The Palestinians are thought to be demanding land near East Jerusalem which is highly controversial.

On Monday, Mr Barak angered the Palestinians by announcing he would postpone the troop withdrawal by three weeks.

Speedy negotiations

Israeli media reported that Mr Barak had asked Mr Arafat to agree to postpone the deadline for a framework agreement by two months.

But Mr Arafat's adviser, Nabil Abourdeneh, said there was no discussion of a two-month extension.

Bulldozer Talks on the Golan Heights have been put on ice

He said both sides had agreed to accelerate peace talks in the hope of meeting the February deadline.

But he added that the gaps between the two sides remained wide, and that intervention by US President Bill Clinton would be needed.

"There was an agreement ... to begin speedy negotiations in order to reach the ... deadline, and an agreement to respect the timelines outlined in the agreement," he said.

Negotiators have made little progress in resolving four complex issues, including the demarcation of the final borders between Israel and the Palestinian entity, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Golan Heights

Mr Barak should have been flying to the US on Tuesday in preparation for the latest round of Israeli-Syria talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

If it isn't comfortable for the Syrians to come now, and they need some time, they should take the time
Ehud Barak

But these were put on ice at the last minute after the Syrians insisted Israel commit to a withdrawal from all of the Golan Heights before negotiations resume.

Israel says it will not make any commitment to territorial concessions until it has agreement on security guarantees for its future borders.

Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said the Barak-Arafat summit had been arranged before the crisis erupted with Syria but had taken on a new meaning in light of the postponement.

"It enabled Barak to signal to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad that if he continues with these games of his, he is liable to lose the initiative of recent weeks in terms of the attention he has received from the Israelis," it commented.

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See also:
17 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Syria talks on hold
12 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Barak confident of Golan deal
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Israelis protest as talks end
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: The 'roadmap' to peace
16 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Palestinian anger at Israeli delay
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Israel divided over Golan Heights
05 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Land, arms and security

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