Israelis give more powers to the PLO

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JERUSALEM - Israel yesterday endorsed an accord handing over civilian powers in the West Bank to the Palestinians. It also vowed to pursue talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation despite attacks by Hamas, the militant Islamist group.

The accord will give Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank the chance to control their own affairs for the first time since Israeli occupation in 1967, and paves the way for the second phase of self-rule. The agreement is due to be signed today by Nabil Shaath, the chief PLO negotiator, and Danny Rothschild, his Israeli counterpart, at a ceremony in Erez on the border between the Gaza Strip, now autonomous, and Israel.

Under the terms of the accord the Israeli military administration must relinquish control of education, health, culture, tourism, social and youth affairs, and the collection of value-added tax. The handover in education has already begun in order to be completed by Thursday, which is the start of the new school year.

Israel's Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, vowed to press ahead with negotiations despite the murder of two Israelis by Hamas on Friday, officials said. At a cabinet meeting Mr Rabin also ruled out sealing off the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the wake of the attack, as has often happened in the past.

According to the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, much more remains to be negotiated, including at least 10 sectors that Israel wants to see transferred to the Palestinians before the end of the year. Israel's military administration has exercised jurisdiction over 38 sectors of life since 1967. Palestinians insist their priority is to negotiate elections to the self-rule council.

TULKARM, West Bank - One man died and six were wounded in the first serious clash between rival Palestinian security services on Saturday in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, AFP reports.

A member of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's 'presidential guard', was shot dead by 'preventive security' men after a brawl when security officers arrived to arrest the presidential guard involved in the fight.