Battle for Hebron peace deal

Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation continued talks yesterday on new security plans for Hebron, even though neither side believes their efforts can begin to solve the problems of this West Bank town.

The aim of the discussions is to agree on the size and powers of a token Palestinian police force, backed by Norwegian observers. Ostensibly the role of this flimsy 'peace-keeing' body will be to defuse the conflict between Jewish settlers and the Arab residents.

More likely their presence will exacerbate tensions in the town, adding another armed group to the dangerous cocktail of forces which already operate in Hebron: the Israeli army, Israeli police, Jewish settlers and Palestinian militants.

Confused messages emerged from Cairo yesterday about whether the two sides were close to agreement on the force.

Meanwhile, sources at the PLO headquarters in Tunis said Israel and the PLO had agreed on the size of a Palestinian police force for Hebron, AP reports from Cairo.

The two sides agreed 100 Palestinians would join Israeli forces in Hebron, according to the sources. The Palestinians would go on joint patrols with Israelis.

Yaacov Setty, a spokesman for Israel's embassy in Cairo, said negotiators were working on final details, but would not say when an agreement might be announced.