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Israeli, Palestinian Officials Meet

July 26, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A secret weekend meeting between Israel’s defense minister and Yasser Arafat’s top deputy has brought the resumption of talks between the two sides closer, an Israeli official said Sunday.

Palestinian negotiators would not discuss the meeting, but Avi Beniahu, an aide to Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, said Mordechai met with Mahmoud Abbas late Saturday in the Jerusalem area and agreed that their negotiating teams would reconvene shortly.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, would not confirm the meeting took place. He told Israel radio that Israeli negotiators ``haven’t brought any new ideas at all″ to further discussions on an Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank. Building in Jewish settlements there has more than doubled in the first quarter of 1998, the Israeli group Peace Now said Sunday.

Israel’s Army Radio said talks would resume Monday.

Palestinian leaders were to meet late Sunday night in the Gaza Strip to discuss the current situation in peace talks, Erekat told The Associated Press.

Israel has rejected an American initiative, widely reported but never formally unveiled, calling for it to withdraw from another 13.1 percent of the West Bank. Arafat has accepted the proposal.

Last week, the two sides held their first high-level, face-to-face meetings in months at the request of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The talks concluded with both sides asking the United States to step in again.

U.S. officials, however, have indicated that the two sides need to work out their differences themselves.

Abbas was scheduled to meet Israeli Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani on Monday, but the two were to discuss smaller, day-to-day problems rather than the troop pullback terms.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman warned Sunday that the situation was approaching an ``explosion.″

``The two sides _ the Palestinians and we _ are approaching a moment when we will have no choice but to do something,″ he told Israel Radio.

Weizman, whose position is largely ceremonial, repeated his call for early elections because of the stalemate in the peace process.

``There is a need for a shakeup,″ he said.

Also Sunday, dozens of peace activists demonstrated at intersections around Israel, calling on Netanyahu to go ahead with the West Bank troop withdrawal.

Meanwhile in Alexandria, Egypt, Syrian President Hafez Assad held talks Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the troubled Middle East peace process.

The two leaders talked briefly with reporters after meeting but gave few details.

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