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Shamir remarks on autonomy 'misinterpreted'

FURTHER evidence of disarray within the Likud government emerged yesterday when Yitzhak Shamir, the outgoing Prime Minister, denied the interpretation placed upon remarks last week in which he disclosed a secret agenda for the Middle East peace talks.

Mr Shamir was reported to have told the newspaper Ma'ariv that he had never had any serious intention of making progress in the negotiations: 'I would have carried on autonomy talks for 10 years and meanwhile we would have reached half a million people in Judea and Samaria.'

The remarks caused outrage among Palestinians and raised eyebrows among foreign governments - particularly in the US State Department - where suspicions that Mr Shamir had been wasting their time appeared to be confirmed. The comments also angered some of Mr Shamir's ministerial colleagues, who felt they had been tainted by his apparent confession.

Yesterday, seemingly under pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which had been inundated with protests, Mr Shamir's office expressed 'astonishment' at the interpretation of his remarks and denied any lack of commitment to the idea of autonomy. What Mr Shamir had meant was that, once agreed, the autonomy arrangements would have lasted 10 years while discussions continued about the final question of sovereignty.

In another example of post- election vitriol yesterday, Ariel Sharon, the Housing Minister, was accused by left-wing MPs of shredding vast quantities of documents relating to allegedly dubious dealings over money for settlement building. Extra shredding machines were reported to have been seen being taken into the ministry. A ministry spokesman retorted that the accusers were 'lying'. Mr Sharon was proud of his achievement over the past two years and had no use for shredders, said the spokesman.

Yitzhak Rabin, whose Labour party won last week's elections, was expected to be formally asked this week to form a government.

Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has asked an Israeli court to overturn the award of damages to an Arab who lost his hands removing a Palestinian flag from a power line on soldiers' orders.

'With artificial limbs, he can manage a business and employ a worker to sell falafel (fried chickpeas),' said, Plia Albeck, head of the civil department, adding that thePalestinians who hoisted the flag were to blame.