Top Israeli and Palestinian officials began a meeting in the West Bank Sunday for talks on security issues ahead of marathon peace talks due to start later in Taba, according to press reports.
"The discussions will be focused on the continuing Israeli attacks against Palestinians and the closure," leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told AFP ahead of the talks.
He was referring to the blockade imposed on the Palestinian territories since the start of the wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence almost four months ago, said the agency.
Erakat was taking part in the talks along with top security officials including Palestinian preventive security chief for the Gaza Strip Mohammed Dahlan and his West Bank counterpart Jibril Rajoub, said Haaretz newspaper.
Israel was represented by tourism minister, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, head of the Shin Beth, Avraham Dichter, and deputy army chief, Moshe Alon.
Israel gave the green light Saturday night to marathon peace talks with the Palestinians in Taba, less than three weeks before Israeli elections that could elect a hard-line right-wing government.
The high-level negotiations are expected to last for a week to 10 days, and will include large delegations from both sides, reported Haaretz.
It said that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will head the Palestinian delegation, and his presence is expected to facilitate the decision-making process.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he was skeptical about the chances that the marathon talks would yield an agreement.
"In the short time left, with the gaps that exist, the chance of bridging them is not great," Barak said, quoted as telling the Army Radio.
The paper quoted Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qorei as telling the Arabic daily that "if there is progress in the talks they could lead to a summit between Barak and Arafat."
Barak, however, believes the chances of reaching an agreement before the elections is very low, according to Haaretz.
Israel will be represented by foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, Shahak and justice minister, Yossi Beilin, as well as by Meretz party leader, Yossi Sarid, and negotiatior Gilad Sher, according to Haaretz.
The Palestinian team will be represented by Erakat, Qorei, information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Dahlan, planning and international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath and state minister Hassan Asfour, a Palestinian source told AFP.
"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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