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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rabin, Arafat Speed Up Peace Process

EREZ, Gaza Strip -- The leaders of Israel and the PLO accelerated peace moves Wednesday, announcing a flurry of meetings to smooth the way for Palestinian elections and the expansion of Palestinian self-rule.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat met for more than 90 minutes at an Israeli army base just inside the Gaza Strip for their first summit on home ground since sealing a peace deal in Washington 11 months ago.

The two men, who smiled and shook hands when they met, promised to reduce tensions and minimize differences. Shortly after the summit, Israel freed eight women prisoners whose release was demanded by the PLO.

Rabin warned however that remarks by a top PLO official, Farouk Kaddoumi, who was reported to have called for Israel's destruction, had violated the peace deal and stood to harm it if repeated.

"We decided the negotiations will continue on Monday and Tuesday between the two committees that deal with early empowerment and of course elections," Rabin told a joint news conference.

Israel handed over Jericho in the West Bank and most of the strip in May. Under the accord, Israel would have transferred powers to Palestinians in five spheres of life in the rest of the West Bank in what is known as "early empowerment."

Difficult negotiations delayed the handover and put off the first Palestinian general elections, once set for July.

Rabin said a joint Israeli-PLO liaison committee would meet Wednesday and if necessary, the two leaders would hold another summit in two weeks.

Israeli officials said the meetings would take place at the site of the summit, an Israeli army base in the Gaza Strip used for liaising with Palestinian self-rule officials.

"Definitely we have some differences," Arafat said. "At the same time we have agreed to minimize all these differences between both of us starting from the question of Jerusalem, to the early empowerment, to the financing, to the donors and donations," he told reporters.

"With determination and continuous organizing of these steps, we are sure that we will be able to over-jump all our obstacles," Arafat said.

Before the summit, an Israeli minister said Rabin would reassure Arafat that Palestinians would not be cast aside by Israel's peace moves with Jordan.

Israeli Environment Minister Yossi Sarid, who negotiates with the PLO, said Rabin wanted to erase any impression that Israel had forgotten the Palestinian problem.

"Our relations with Jordan are not and do not have to be at the expense of our relations with the Palestinian leadership," Sarid said Wednesday.

?The Senate approved and sent to U.S. President Bill Clinton on Wednesday a $13.8 billion foreign operations bill providing up to $220 million debt relief for Jordan.

The bill includes $99 million added two weeks ago to finance the debt relief in reward for Jordan's July 25 agreement with Israel to end the 46-year state of war.