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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Arafat gloomy on Mid-East talks
Jerusalem
The status of Jerusalem is a key issue
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are holding a second session of talks to try to reach a framework peace accord before the end of May, with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat critical of the lack of progress so far.

The two sides are meeting at the Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, the same venue as last month's talks, which yielded no breakthroughs.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was scathing about the lack of progress so far.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat: Critical of slow progress so far
"The negotiations are still at their beginning and still we have not reached a solution for any of the principle issues," Mr Arafat said.

Mr Arafat, who will meet US President Bill Clinton in Washington later this month, has accused Israeli negotiators of lacking the authority to make decisions on the key outstanding issues.

The Israeli team is led by Oded Eran, while the Palestinian delegation is headed by Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information and culture.

US officials will not participate in the discussions, but will be present and ready to mediate if necessary.

Flexible

Questions to be resolved include the crucial so-called "final status" issues such as the future of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state, as well as security guarantees and the disposition of Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian official charged with the Jerusalem issue, Faisal Husseini, has spent the week in Washington, where he met Aaron Miller, head of Middle East affairs at the State Department, and US congressmen.

Palestinians in Gaza
The status of Palestinian refugees has to be determined
"I am here to bring to the attention of US officials and different lobbies, Arab and Jewish, that we have before us a chance to realise peace that we must take," he said.

Egypt's ambassador to the US, Nabil Fahmy, has warned the Israelis to be more flexible.

He said Israelis "do not understand the frustration Arabs feel that there is still occupation".

He said that the Israeli-Palestinian talks were the most crucial in the whole Middle East peace process, warning that if there was no agreement, "the possibility of violence is larger on this front" than elsewhere in the region.

The Clinton administration views Egypt as a moderating force in the Arab-Israeli dispute, calling on its help as a mediator between the two sides.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks with President Clinton last month.

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | Middle East
Lebanon's terms for Israeli pull-out
19 Mar 00 | Middle East
Israel approves land transfer
31 Jan 00 | Middle East
Jerusalem: Eternal, intractable
07 Mar 00 | Middle East
Arafat: Palestinian state 'this year'
07 Feb 00 | Middle East
Palestinians freeze peace talks
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