Israel gave the green light Saturday night to marathon peace talks with the Palestinians in Egypt, less than three weeks before Israeli elections that could elect a hard-line right-wing government.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office said the negotiations, to be centered on US peace proposals, will take place in the resort town of Taba on the Sinai peninsula, possibly starting Sunday evening.
The high-level negotiations are expected to last from a week to 10 days, and will include large delegations from both sides, reported Haaretz newspaper.
It said that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will head the Palestinian delegation, and his presence is expected to facilitate the decision-making process.
Israel will be represented by foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, transportation minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and religious affairs minister, Yossi Beilin, as well as by Meretz party leader, Yossi Sarid, and negotiatior Gilad Sher, according to Haaretz.
A Palestinian official confirmed that the meetings would be in Taba.
"The aim of these negotiations is to reach a framework agreement on the basis of the (former US president Bill) Clinton proposals. We are not building from ground zero," Beilin told Israeli television.
A high-ranking Palestinian official announced Saturday that major progress had been made in peace talks over the past week, saying Israel has offered compromises on a disputed holy site in Jerusalem, and agreed in principle to giving up control of the Jordan Valley and the northern shoreline of the Dead Sea in the West Bank, according to AFP.
"Serious progress has been made and, on certain points, even breakthroughs," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
Asked about significant Israeli concessions, a high-ranking Israeli official told the agency "I do not want to elaborate on it."
He added, "I don't think there are high chances" of a peace deal before the February 6 elections for prime minister.
Barak will supervise the Israeli team along with Minister of Regional Cooperation and leading dove Shimon Peres, who could join the talks if they go well, AFP added.
The Palestinian team will be represented by Erakat, Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qorei, information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Palestinian security chief in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Dahlan, planning and international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath and state minister Hassan Asfour, a Palestinian source said.
Part of the Palestinian team has already left for Egypt, the source added.
"We want intensive and serious negotiations that will permit the application of international resolutions," Erakat said.
Arafat gave his proposal for 10 days of intensive talks to Ben Ami when they met Wednesday in Cairo -- Albawaba.com
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