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Israel and PLO try to narrow their differences

SHIMON PERES, the Israeli Foreign Minister, and Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, held intensive talks yesterday to try to reach final agreement on Palestinian self-rule in the first high-level meeting between the two sides since the Hebron massacre in February.

The ever hopeful Mr Peres characteristically said: 'We are making progress. The main purpose of our meetings is to crystallise the last stage of the negotiations and the beginning of the implementation (of self-rule).'

They were meeting in Bucharest, where they were attending sessions of the Swiss-based foundation, the Crans Montana Forum. In the past, Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to enjoy good relations with both Israel and the Arab world, and the late President Ceausescu hosted the secret contacts that led to President Sadat going to Jerusalem in 1977.

Mr Peres said he and Mr Arafat were seeking to narrow the differences that have delayed the implementation of their accord on self-rule for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, currently under Israeli military occupation. Two deadlines have already been missed.

Mr Peres said he and Mr Arafat had agreed to a meeting on 2 May in Cairo with foreign donors who are funding the Palestinian police and meeting the running expenses of Palestinian administration.

Mr Peres said he could not rule out the possibility that he and Mr Arafat could go to Cairo next week to participate in the final stages of the self-rule negotiations. 'We had to overcome many misunderstandings because of differing perceptions. This we are doing,' he said.

Mr Arafat said on arrival in Bucharest on Wednesday that he was hopeful agreement could be reached. 'However long it takes and however many delays occur, the hour of peace will come,' he said.

In Cairo, the senior Palestinian negotiator to talks there with Israel said the two sides were close to settling a dispute on the scope of Palestinian law in Gaza and Jericho. 'We are closer than ever before on the jurisdiction issue,' Nabil Shaath said. But he said there were problems remaining on a timetable for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners.

His counterpart, the chief Israeli negotiator, Major-General Amnon Shahak, called the latest round of talks 'very fruitful'. 'I do hope next week we will be able to sum it up and write it down,' he said. 'I cannot pinpoint a date for the agreement to be signed, but the day is not very far.'

In Israel the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, made further hints of concessions that Israel might make in order to reach a peace agreement with Syria. He told the United Kibbutz Movement he would remove Jewish settlements from the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, if needed.

GAZA - A Palestinian shot by Israeli soldiers in the occupied Gaza Strip died of his wounds on his birthday yesterday, Reuter reports. Five others were wounded in clashes, Palestinian sources said.

(Photograph omitted)