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Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Stall - 2002-08-08

Negotiations on a phased Israeli troop withdrawal from Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank appear to have broken down. Palestinians reports talks aimed at reaching an agreement had ended in failure.

Israeli and Palestinian officials have failed to agree on a plan to withdraw Israeli troops from Palestinian self-rule areas. Israeli officials had proposed that the first pullback would take place in Gaza and if successful, would be repeated in parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian officials are demanding an immediate Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank city of Bethlehem as well as the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians accuse Israel of making this offer and then canceling it just hours after the Palestinian Cabinet gave its preliminary approval to the plan.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared the talks had failed because Israel had imposed conditions, which, he says, were "impossible to accept or even to implement".

Israeli Cabinet Minister, Ephraim Sneh says it is the Palestinians who are to blame for the breakdown in negotiations. He says Palestinian officials are demanding that Israel also withdraw from the West Bank city of Ramallah, as well Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Sneh says that both cities remain active centers for Palestinian militant groups, and there is no justification at this stage for including them in a phased withdrawal plan.

Israel has occupied most parts of the West Bank since June, following a series of suicide bombings.

Israel strengthened its hold over the northern West Bank and parts of the Gaza Strip this week in response to a suicide bus bombing.