Britain resumes contacts with PLO

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS HOGG, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, is to meet two officials of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) today after a three-year absence of ministerial contacts which were broken off because of the PLO's position on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Foreign Office spokesmen confirmed last night, writes Charles Richards.

The move is intended to give some support to more moderate Palestinian elements and encourage them to return to the negotiating table. Mr Hogg is to see the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Faisal Husseini, who will be accompanied at the meeting by Hael Fahoum, head of the PLO's European department in Tunis and the PLO's London representative, Afif Safieh.

Two things have changed in Britain's stance vis-a-vis the PLO. One is that Israel's deportation of more than 400 Palestinians in December boosted support for the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the occupied territories at the expense of the PLO. Hamas opposes the peace negotiations. And in Britain, John Major is less worried about any reaction from some of his own party to the restoration of contacts. In 1989, William Waldegrave, then Foreign Office minister, met Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, and the last contact was a year later.

In Jerusalem, Israel protested against Britain's decision to resume contacts with the PLO, saying that it could damage chances for Middle East peace.

The deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin, summoned the British ambassador, Andrew Burns, to express Israel's protest.