Palestinians Say Peace Talks will not Resume Wednesday
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will not resume on Wednesday as announced by Israel, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's top aide Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
"The talks will not resume today," Abu Rudeina told AFP in Gaza.
He also said the Palestinians would declare an independent state before the September 13 deadline the two sides have set for a final peace accord on the most contentious issues at the heart of their conflict.
"The proclamation of a Palestinian state will be announced before the date mentioned in the agreement," Abu Rudeina said.
Arafat has repeatedly pledged to declare a state even if there is no peace deal on the September 13 target date laid down in last year's interim Sharm el-Sheikh accord.
On the future of the peace talks, Abu Rudeina said Arafat will chair a meeting of Palestinian negotiators in Gaza on Wednesday evening to "decide this issue."
Israel Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, who is leading his government's negotiating team, said on Tuesday that the talks would begin Wednesday at an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
Negotiations which had been underway in Stockholm were suspended 10 days ago by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak following a week of deadly rioting and gunbattles in the Palestinian territories.
Israel's top-selling newspaper the Yediot Aharonot said the talks were expected to take place in Jerusalem.
But Abu Rudeina said that for the two sides to reach an agreement: "Israel has to accept Resolution 242 and to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza strip and to accept Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state."
He was referring to the 1967 UN resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from Arab territory it occupied in the June 1967 Middle East war.
"They should find a rapid solution to the prisoners issue so that we have a positive mood to resume the talks," Abu Rudeina added.
The Palestinians want Israel to release the some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in its jails, many of whom have been on a hunger strike since the beginning of the month to highlight their cause.
BARAK, CLINTON TO MEET IN BERLIN THURSDAY
Meanwhile reports said that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton are to meet in Berlin Thursday to discuss prospects for peace with Syria and Lebanon after the Israeli army withdrawal, as well as the status of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which both sides are indicating are bogged down.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said Wednesday that the United States had hoped for a breakthrough in the Palestinian track before the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, and now Barak wants to coordinate positions with Clinton as the negotiations with the Palestinians move to the critical stage, said a source in Jerusalem.
Arafat has written to Clinton complaining about the state of the negotiations and asking the American leader to help break the deadlock, and Barak wants to be sure that Clinton doesn't have any surprise announcements up his sleeve to be made at the Berlin meeting.
According to Israeli sources cited by the paper, Arafat told Clinton that none of the negotiation tracks, including the so-called Stockholm channel led by Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and Palestinian Parliament Speaker Abu Ala, were yielding results. The Stockholm talks, named for the Swedish capital where they were first held in secret, are scheduled to resume today at a local venue – (Several Sources)
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