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Peres stresses security concern

CAIRO (Reuter) - A long day of talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho recessed early today with both sides hinting at progress.

'They have moved to the stage of wording, but it still remains to be seen if the wording will be final,' an Israeli official had earlier told reporters. He declined to say any more and the information could not be confirmed independently.

During the evening, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, joined the talks in a Cairo hotel between Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and the PLO's Mahmoud Abbas. A source close to the meeting said the teams pored over maps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, another possible sign that the talks had reached the stage of discussing fine detail.

Mr Moussa left four hours later, slipping out of a side door to avoid reporters and television crews crowding the lobby. Egypt, the only Arab state to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, has been trying to bridge gaps between the two sides and help them to rescue the historic peace agreement, which Israel and the PLO signed only three months ago.

The agreement set 13 December as the deadline for Israel to start withdrawing from Gaza and Jericho and give limited self-rule to Palestinians.

But disputes forced an indefinite delay: on control of border crossings between Egypt and Gaza and between Jordan and Jericho, the size of the Jericho area and security for Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The Israeli Environment Minister, Yossi Sarid, told reporters in the early evening there might be some word on progress later. 'We will stay here for as long as it takes,' he said, emerging from the meetings to buy cigarettes at the hotel bar.

'We have pledged not to reveal a word, even half a word, about any progress, even half- progress,' Mr Sarid said. But he added: 'We are in the middle of negotiations and we must be patient enough to wait as long as the evening-time. In the evening-time we will be much better informed about our progress.'

Mr Peres said after meeting Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak during a morning break in the talks that Israel's main concern was its security. 'We are talking like friends,' Mr Peres said. 'As far as we are concerned, we shall respect their dignity and, as much as we can, their needs. You know that our main concern is and will remain the concern for the security of Israel.'