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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Nov. 15, 1996 V4, #208
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Hebron Withdrawal Called Elusive

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

US and Palestinian officials now say they do not expect an agreement on the future of Hebron in the next few days, contrary to expectations which were raised Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, told reporters in Gaza he is "not optimistic" about reaching an agreement soon. He said another late-night bargaining session into the early hours of Thursday failed to make any progress on key issues. He says he can't accept several israeli demands.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the spokesman for Secretary of State Warren Christopher also expressed doubts about reaching a Hebron withdrawal accord soon. Nicholas Burns quoted the senior US Middle East mediator Dennis Ross as saying more than a few more days will be needed. Ross made a brief stop in Israel Wednesday night on his way from Cairo to Washington. The US Embassy says he spoke to both Palestinian and Israeli officials during his stopover, but did not leave the airport.

Among other things, Israel is believed to want restrictions on the type of weapons the Palestinian police will carry in Hebron and the right for Israeli forces to enter Palestinian-controlled parts of the city. Arafat says he is not only opposed to such ideas, but the existing agreement cannot be changed to include them because the accord signed a year ago was ratified by the Israeli parliament and the Palestinian Council.

Israel says it does not want to change the agreement, but only to add some security enhancements. The Palestinians say the Israeli demands amount to a fundamental change in the definition of autonomy.

Negotiators have been meeting almost around the clock in recent days and have indicated some significant progress has been made. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a visit to the United States so he would be at hand for the final stages of the talks, and perhaps the withdrawal itself. Israeli newspapers predicted a Hebron withdrawal as early as Saturday night. But Thursday's statements cast significant doubt on all that optimism.

Hebron Arabs Celebrate Independence Day

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

An agreement on a pullback of Israeli troops from Hebron remains elusive. The Israelis are demanding that their troops be able to chase Palestinian suspects in the city without restrictions. But with the anticipated redeployment imminent, Jewish settlers in Hebron are anxious about the future.

Hundreds of scouts from Hebron's elementary and high schools marched through Hebron Thursday to mark Palestinian Independence Day -- the day in 1988, five years before the Israeli/Palestinian peace accord -- when PLO chairman Yasir Arafat declared Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The celebrations took place despite the deadlock in talks on the long-delayed Israeli pullback. But much of the army redeployment in Hebron has already been completed. Israeli soldiers are to remain in about 20 percent of the city, in an area that includes five Jewish enclaves and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.

About 450 Jews, most of them children, live in Hebron, surrounded by 130,000 Palestinians. The settlers are convinced that the moment the redeployment takes place, they will be attacked by mobs of Palestinians, including Palestinian police.

Middle East Economic Conference Ends

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Cairo)

The Middle East and North Africa Economic Conference wound up its business after three days of discussions and deal-making. The business meeting was overshadowed by the strains of the peace process it aims to encourage.

The focus of the three-day forum had been the technical aspects of trade and investment. But it was hard to divorce it from the politics of doing business in a region still strained by the process of stitching together a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

Arabs and Israelis used the conference for matchmaking projects and finding potential investors. Egypt used it to promote its own resources and reforms. A few major deals were announced, including an Egyptian contract to supply Turkey with natural gas.

Private-sector entrepreneurs suggested they are often ahead of their leaders when it comes to regional integration. One Israeli joked that maybe the peace process should be privatized.

But the participants also addressed the problems that a faltering peace process presents for efforts to integrate the Middle East and North Africa.

Conference organizers warn that time is running out for the Middle East to match the competition from other areas of the world for trade and investment. Next year's meeting in Qatar will again concentrate more on business than on politics. Delegates here say its success will also depend on subsequent progress in the peace process.

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