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Israel closes Gaza Strip for a day

AS YASSER ARAFAT, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, announced that he intended to take up permanent residence today in the Gaza Strip, accompanied for the first time by his wife, Suha, Israel sealed off the enclave, preventing thousands of Arabs from reaching their jobs in Israel. The closure order, imposed after clashes at a Gaza border point, illustrated how easily Israel can reassert control over the self- rule enclaves when it wishes to.

The Israeli military authorities said later that the area, which was sealed at dawn yesterday, would be reopened at midnight. The incident did not prevent Mr Arafat from attending a farewell ceremony last night in Tunisia, which has been home to the PLO for the past 12 years.

In Cairo, talks got underway yesterday, aimed at extending a degree of Palestinian self-rule beyond Jericho to the rest of the West Bank. The Palestinian side say they will insist that Gaza-Jericho-style autonomy be applied to the 1 million Palestinians of the West Bank, with wide-scale withdrawal of Israeli forces, ahead of full elections throughout the self- rule areas.

Israel, however, is keen to put the brakes on the implementation of phase two and will offer, instead, a limited form of autonomy called 'early empowerment'. As a first step the Palestinians of the West Bank would be empowered to take charge of running affairs in five policy areas, and, over time, Israel would be prepared to offer the authority powers in 15 non- contentious areas. Israel will insist that redeployment be more limited than in Gaza and Jericho, and will hope to deter Palestinians from rushing into early elections.

Meanwhile, hopes were raised yesterday of a diplomatic breakthrough in relations between Israel and Jordan, with the first direct public contacts between the two governments expected in the next ten days. On Saturday, King Hussein of Jordan publicly declared his readiness to meet the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

In a address to the Jordanian parliament, the King appeared to be deliberately trying to prepare Jordanian public opinion for such a meeting, stressing that he would do it, not out of sudden friendship for Israel, but because he was under pressure to please the US in return for financial assistance.

A full-blown summit between the King and Mr Rabin is probably still some way off, but in the next two weeks, Jordanian and Israeli officials are expected to meet publicly for the first time on Jordanian soil. They will discuss disputes of border demarcation, security, water rights, and other issues to be solved before the two sides can sign a peace treaty.