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Peres Convenes Negotiating Team Ahead of Talks with Palestinians - 2002-07-16


Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is to convene Israel's negotiating team Tuesday to prepare for talks with the Palestinians. The Israeli committee is to discuss a range of issues, including easing restrictions on residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr. Peres is convening for the first time the Israeli team that will begin negotiations with the Palestinians, scheduled for next week.

The team includes cabinet minister Danny Naveh, West Bank military commander, Amos Gilead, and the director-general of the Israeli Finance Ministry, Ohad Marani.

The committee will discuss the possibility of lifting curfews that have been imposed on most West Bank cities since June 19, following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.

The curfews and other restrictions were introduced under a broad military offensive. The leading Hebrew-language newspaper, Ha'aretz, said in an editorial Tuesday that, while the Israeli troops may need to remain in the West Bank to fight terrorism, the continued use of curfews had become "unacceptable and cannot be considered legitimate."

The new head of the Israeli defense forces, General Moshe Ya'alon, told the parliamentary committee on defense and foreign affairs Tuesday that there should be some easing of restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

At the same time, he said that there should be no troop withdrawal from cities in the West Bank, arguing that this will be seen as, in his words, "a sign of weakness" that would serve only to encourage Palestinian militants to carry out more attacks against Israelis.

The Israeli negotiating team will also discuss the option of releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, which has been withheld from the Palestinian Authority since the start of clashes in September 2000.

The committee is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom to discuss the government's policies towards the Palestinians.

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