US envoy Dennis Ross met Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on Saturday to try to reach agreement on Israeli troop withdrawals and other issues, reported The Associated Press, quoting American and Palestinian officials.
Ross met at an undisclosed location Saturday night with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart, Oded Eran, said the agency, quoting an American official as saying.
The outstanding problems include release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, opening of a second “safe passage” for Palestinians across Israeli territory, the Palestinian demand for control of an airfield near Jerusalem and the third Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank.
Israel has proposed that the third troop redeployment be merged with the permanent peace agreement, which the two sides are now negotiating. The Palestinians say this would be a violation of the interim accord, said the AP.
The redeployment was to have taken place on May 23rd but the Palestinians agreed to postpone it until July 7th at the request of the United States, Erekat said.
Erekat submitted to Ross a list of 230 Palestinian prisoners whom the Palestinians want Israel to release under the interim agreement, said the agency. Israel recently released three prisoners as a goodwill gesture, which the Palestinians dismissed as patronizing.
Eran asked Erekat for a report on collection of weapons by the Palestinian Authority from opposition and other civilian groups as required by the interim agreement, added the AP, quoting the official as saying.
In last month's clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, civilian members of Fatah group, the mainstream faction of the PLO, opened fire on Israeli soldiers. Opposition groups such as Hamas are also known to have firearms and sometimes carry them at demonstrations.
Ross arrived in the region on Thursday to assess prospects for a Middle East summit in Washington during which Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat would try to formulate the outlines of a peace treaty. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was expected to join Ross this week.
A final peace agreement will have to deal with the most difficult issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the future of the Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and the permanent borders, according to the AP – Albawaba.com
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