Progress in talks on accord

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are reporting progress in talks aimed at resuming implementation of the Wye River accord, which was signed last October. But an impasse over the release of Palestinian prisoners remains a key sticking point between the two sides.

Israeli officials say they are close to an agreement with the Palestinians on a timetable for further troop withdrawals from parts of the West Bank, but they say there are still differences over the matter.

Reports in the Israeli media said Israel has agreed to make two further troop redeployments, one in October and one by Jan. 20. The Palestinians had originally demanded that the withdrawal end earlier than that, but they agreed to compromise in return for more land than had been promised in the Wye deal, according to Palestinian officials.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity late Wednesday night, said that they had already agreed to a timetable and that only the dispute over a prisoner release had yet to be resolved.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had been scheduled to fly to Washington Wednesday for talks with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ahead of her visit to the region next week. But with the negotiations ongoing, he is now expected to brief Ms. Albright on Friday.

In recent days, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have made headway on several issues, including the opening of a "safe passage" route for Palestinians seeking to travel between the West Bank and Gaza. But there are still deep differences over the fate of 2,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Palestinians say that under the Wye deal, another 650 detainees they consider political prisoners should be released. But the Israeli government says it will not release any Palestinians who committed or attempted murder.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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