Tension in the air as Rabin meets Arafat

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The Independent Online
YITZHAK RABIN, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, are to meet today in Cairo, amid concern about rising tension in the occupied territories.

Since their historic handshake in Washington last month, the peace process has lost some momentum, and Palestinian officials have warned that the fragile peace is threatened by Israeli round-ups of Palestinian activists.

In less than two weeks the two sides are set to negotiate the details of Palestinian self-rule, and in particular procedures for withdrawing Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and Jericho. Mr Rabin has appeared increasingly anxious over the PLO's apparent failure to make solid preparations. No Palestinian team has been named and no firm proposals tabled.

In Egypt, Mr Rabin is expected to seek assurances from Mr Arafat that he can meet the timetable. Any backsliding will reduce faith in the deal among Palestinians and damage Mr Rabin's standing with the opposition inside Israel.

The two men are also expected to discuss the growing tension caused by violence in the occupied territories since the signing. Palestinian opponents of talks have attacked Israeli targets, increasingly resorting to suicide bombings.

Israel has launched a new crackdown on Palestinian gunmen, bringing accusations from Mr Arafat that Israeli forces are breaching the terms of the peace agreement.

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