Israel and PLO pass 'milestone' on road to peace

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CAIRO (AP) - Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader, and Shimon Peres, Israel's Foreign Minister, reached agreement last night on some critical security issues that have stalled the Israel-PLO peace deal.

At a ceremony hosted by Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, the two initialled a 21-page document with maps, mostly put together in three days of talks here, clearing the way for further talks and a formal signing by Mr Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister.

Mr Mubarak said: 'This document eliminates several obstacles on the road to peace and paves the way for the signing of the detailed agreement and the annexed protocols.' Both sides have said it will take at least two weeks to work out all the details.

Mr Peres said the agreement covered the border posts between Gaza and Egypt and between Jericho and Jordan, one of the main sticking-points in the months of wrangling, as well as 'the distribution of security'. 'We solved most of the problems,' he added.

In Washington, President Bill Clinton told visiting members of the World Jewish Congress that 'another big milestone has been achieved today'.

Israel and the PLO have been haggling over security issues that have held up Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza strip and the West Bank town of Jericho since 13 December, the date set in the peace accord signed in Washington three months earlier.

The withdrawal will clear the way for limited self-rule for Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho. The difficulties have been control of the crossings from the autonomous Palestinian areas to Egypt and Jordan, security for Jewish settlers who remain in Gaza - and the size of the Jericho area to be ceded by Israel, which has still to be decided.