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Middle East correspondent Paul Adams
"The Palestinians are furious"
 real 28k

Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 16:04 GMT
US intervenes in West Bank dispute

Dennis Ross with Yasser Arafat

The United States is intervening in the deepening dispute between Israel and the Palestinians to try to resolve disagreements over the location of a scheduled Israeli withdrawal from 6.1% of the West Bank.

Middle East
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were due to present their positions to US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross at a meeting outside Tel Aviv.

The talks were arranged after Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat declared that the peace process with Israel was in a state of "unprecedented crisis".

Mr Ross went to the region this week to try to spur the two sides to agree the outlines of a settlement.

Among the diplomatic options was to set up a three-way summit in Washington with President Clinton.

But State Department spokesman James Foley said "things did not go swimmingly well".

Lowest ebb

The BBC's Middle East correspondent Paul Adams says Israeli-Palestinian relations appear to have reached their lowest ebb since Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak took office last year.

Talks between the two sides have broken down amid mutual recriminations.

Mr Arafat accused Mr Barak of backing away from earlier agreements regarding Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank, as well as the mid-February deadline for reaching the outlines of a final settlement.

In talks with Mr Ross on Friday he called for "European, American and Arab intervention" to put pressure on Israel.

Syrian factor

It is not thought likely that the two sides were going to negotiate at Saturday's meeting, but merely present their positions and allow Mr. Ross to reach his own conclusions.

A statement released after Friday's Palestinian cabinet meeting spoke in terms, of "an unprecedented crisis" in the peace process.

One possible clue to the latest impasse comes in reports that Israel and Syria may soon return to the negotiating table.

Senior officials from the two countries are reported to have held a secret meeting in Geneva last week.

Despite official assertions that it is possible to move on both Syrian and Palestinian tracks at once, most analysts agree that Mr Barak is determined to reach an agreement with Syria first.

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US bid to kick-start peace talks
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Final status schedule slipping
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