Christopher to study Jericho self-rule

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The Independent Online
Damascus - The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said yesterday that he intends to visit the Palestinian self-governing enclave of Jericho this week, in a trip that may be seen as advancing the cause of Palestinian statehood.

Mr Christopher's foray to the West Bank town will probably take place tomorrow or on Wednesday. He is due in Israel today from Damascus. Mr Christopher arrived in Damascus yesterday for talks on how to break a deadlock in Syrian-Israeli negotiations, stalled over the Israeli- occupied Golan Heights and the future of ties between Syria and Israel.

The Syrian government daily Tishreen said Damascus would accept Israeli withdrawal from Golan over a 'reasonable' period. Diplomats said the statement was the first in which Syria officially spoke of a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from the plateau, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-day war.

Israel is interested in exploring the idea of a phased withdrawal from Golan over a number of years. At the same time, the territory would need to be demilitarised, and a peace force and early warning system put in place.

Mr Christopher's visit to Jericho is likely to be interpreted as another sign that the Palestinians are on their way to building a state in the Gaza Strip and Jericho - the two areas of the occupied territories Israel has agreed largely to evacuate, as part of its deal with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

But a senior US official said: 'Our position on a Palestinian state has not changed. We do not support the establishment of a Palestinian state.' He said there would be no Israeli military presence during the trip. 'The Israelis are out of there. The Israelis will not be providing security,' he said.

Mr Christopher said he wants to evaluate first-hand how the Palestinians are putting self-rule into effect. He wishes also to check on the progress of funds, expected to flow from the international community to the self-rule areas.

The US official said a purpose of the trip was to dramatise the fact that the Israeli-PLO agreement was bringing real change to Palestinian lives, and that they were taking control of their affairs for the first time in their history.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 14