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Israel ready to soften line on checkpoints: Rabin stresses security imperative but speaks of co-ordination with Palestinians

JERUSALEM - The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said yesterday that Israel could accept a Palestinian presence at its border crossings under certain conditions, to break a deadlock with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Speaking before closed Israeli-PLO talks in Paris, he told reporters: 'We'll negotiate co-ordination and even Palestinian presence as long as we will be sure that we can control, for the sake of security, everyone that crosses.'

It was unclear if Mr Rabin's position would break the impasse in implementing Israel's peace deal with the PLO. He said Israel would still insist on control at the borders between Palestinian self-rule areas and neighbouring Arab states. In Tunis, a PLO official said Palestinians would also demand control.

'The Palestinian control is indispensable on passages leading to the Gaza Strip and Jericho area from which the Israelis withdraw,' said Suleiman Najab, a PLO executive committee member.

Mr Rabin said Israel wanted to ensure its own security and that there would be no mass movement of Palestinians into the occupied territories. Under the peace deal, Israel was due to begin withdrawing troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho last week. The withdrawal was postponed in part because of the struggle for control of the crossings from Egypt and Jordan.

Israelis and Palestinians said earlier that they were optimistic about removing the obstacles. The talks in Paris followed closed-door negotiations in Norway earlier this week.

Asked if the Paris talks might end in agreement, Ziad Abu Zayyad, a leading Palestinian in the occupied territories, told Israel Radio: 'I believe so. It's possible.' He said he favoured any co-ordinated agreement that would ensure Israeli security without denying Palestinians the right to self-rule leading to statehood.

The Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, who heads Israel's team at the talks with the PLO, sounded equally hopeful on Monday when he reported to Israeli television on the previous round in Oslo. 'The fact we decided to meet again shortly and together to iron out the crimps or repair the cracks shows both sides believe we can bridge the differences,' he said.

Mr Rabin's spokesman, Gad Ben- Ari, said the Israeli leader would meet the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, once there was progress. He declined to speculate whether they would meet late this week as envisaged when the two leaders held talks in Cairo last week.

The Israeli Labour Party's secretary-general, Nissim Zvili, said in an interview with a French newspaper that Israel was ready to agree to joint patrols with Palestinians on the borders with Egypt and Jordan. But the bridges and the border would remain under Israeli control 'as it was written very clearly in the Oslo accords', he was quoted as telling the Liberation newspaper.

'The sooner Arafat understands that, the better it will be for everyone,' Mr Zvili said.