No Israeli-Palestinian Deal at Taba Talks
J E R U S A L E M , Jan. 28 -- Israel and the Palestinianshave ended five days of talks in Egypt without a peace deal, allbut killing off hopes of a breakthrough before an election whichis expected to oust Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Negotiators issued a joint statement late on Saturday sayingthey were closer than ever to an agreement after the talks inthe Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba.
They said they hoped the remaining gaps would be bridgedafter the election on February 6, even though opinion polls showBarak losing to right-wing challenger Ariel Sharon by 16 to 18percentage points.
"It is doubtful there has ever been a round of talks soserious, deep and detailed," Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami,Israel's chief negotiator, said in Taba on Saturday.
Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Korei, also known as Abu Ala,was cautious, however, saying: "No doubt gaps on all issuesremain. I cannot say these gaps are easy to bridge because theissues are not easy."
Both sides said Palestinian President Yasser Arafat mightalso meet Barak in Sweden on Tuesday or Wednesday in a bid tofurther boost peace hopes.
A leading pollster, Yaacov Levy of Gallup Israel, toldIsrael's Army Radio there was no indication the peace effortswere paying off. "There is no serious momentum of closing thegap," Levy said.
Speaking at a campaign event in working-class Bat Yam nearTel Aviv on Saturday night, Sharon, 72, accused Barak, 58, offailing to boost his election hopes despite a joint statementwith the Palestinians.
"When it will be verified to the citizens of Israel what isin this paper, what Mr Barak conceded and what he is prepared toconcede, it won't add votes," said Sharon, architect of Israel's1982 Lebanon invasion and champion of illegal Jewish settlement.
Bloodshed has continued in the West Bank and Gaza Stripsince the talks began, and at one point prompted the Israelis tosuspend them for two days.
At least 373 people have been killed in the past fourmonths, 312 of them Palestinians, 48 Israelis and 13 IsraeliArabs. Several Palestinians were hurt in Saturday's clashes nearRamallah and Nablus in the West Bank, Palestinian sources said.
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