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Israeli-Palestinian Summit Postponed


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have postponed a summit scheduled for Tuesday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Both sides say the summit will likely take place later this month or in early November.

After several days of talks, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to reach a deal on a common agenda for Tuesday's summit. Had the meeting gone ahead, it would have been the first time Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas had met since Israel's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip.

A joint statement says the two sides will continue committee meetings aimed at resolving disputes.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinian Authority negotiators were seeking the release of about 20 prisoners who have been in Israeli custody for more than 20 years, as well as an Israeli troop pullback from four West Bank cities, beginning in Bethlehem.

Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian Authority minister of planning, told a local radio station that more time is needed before any summit can take place.

Mr. Khatib says, without a specific result coming out of the talks, there was no necessity for the summit to proceed.

In recent days, senior Israeli government officials have said they will not release any Palestinian prisoners, who, in their words, have blood on their hands. Israeli officials also say Palestinian security officials have to do more to restrain militant Palestinians in West Bank towns they have agreed to withdraw from.

Raanan Gissin is a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"If they [the Palestinian Authority] do not take steps to move forward, all these [Israeli] gestures will be in vain," said Mr. Gissin. "Not only will they be in vain, they will serve Hamas, which is the major threat that Abu Mazen is facing today."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) travels to the United States for a meeting with President Bush on October 20. Israeli officials say they hope, by the time he returns, progress can be made in talks for a summit to take place.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian men early Monday near the Gaza border. Israeli troops say the men were crawling near a fence and ignored orders to halt.

Israeli officials also announced an easing of travel restrictions on Palestinians during the month of Ramadan. The measures are designed to allow more Palestinians to travel to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem for religious observances.

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