Rabin and Arafat set to break deadlock: Leaders prepare to meet in Cairo to show peace accord is on track as deadline for Israeli withdrawal nears

YITZHAK RABIN, Israel's Prime Minister, and Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, are planning a summit meeting in Cairo on Sunday if negotiations on Israeli withdrawal remain deadlocked, according to government sources.

The readiness of both leaders to hold a meeting - which would be the second since the signing of the peace deal in September - indicates their determination to show opponents the agreement is on track, despite outstanding disagreements. On Thursday, Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, is expected to meet Mr Arafat in Spain.

Israel is due to begin withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho on Monday as a first stage towards Palestinian self-rule. Fears have mounted in recent days that the deadline might be delayed because of differences over the extent of the withdrawal in the first phase.

Both leaders have a strong interest in showing the agreement is holding up. Mr Rabin is keen to demonstrate to the Israeli right wing, and increasingly volatile settlers in particular, that he is serious about withdrawal. And Mr Arafat's supporters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are calling for concrete signs that the peace agreement is to be implemented soon.

Jewish mourners attending the funeral yesterday of two settlers killed in the West Bank town of Hebron on Monday, accused Mr Rabin of abandoning them. The Rabin government has taken an increasingly strong line against settlers. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement yesterday claimed responsibility for the killings.

The Israeli army arrested 22 suspected members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the West Bank, Palestinian sources said yesterday. The PFLP oppose the peace accord.

The killing of the two settlers came as the United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, returned to Israel from Damascus and Amman on the fourth leg of a Middle East tour aimed at boosting the peace process.

Mr Peres, emerging from a meeting with Mr Christopher, said that the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, had expressed his readiness to resume bilateral peace talks centring on Syria's demand for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

But an official Syrian newspaper, the English-language Syria Times, repeated yesterday Syria's position that the talks could not resume until Israel gave a firm commitment to quit the Heights.

After talks with Mr Assad on Sunday, Mr Christopher announced that Syria is expected to grant exit permits by the end of this year to all Syrian Jews who wish to leave.

(Photograph omitted)