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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Plays Down Differences With Rabin

EREZ, Gaza Strip -- PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat sought Thursday to play down differences with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over a boom in Jewish settlements that threatens their troubled peace accord.

Arafat, under pressure from Palestinians who see their land disappearing under Israeli concrete, backed away from open confrontation with Rabin at a joint news conference following a two-hour meeting.

"We discussed in depth the confiscation of land, building of new settlements and Mr Rabin clarified his position. I think we should continue to coordinate between us," Arafat said.

Yet asked if he was satisfied -- or not -- by what Rabin told him, Arafat said: "Somewhere in between."

Both men reaffirmed their commitment to the next stage of their accord, the extension of Palestinian self-rule from Gaza and Jericho to the rest of the West Bank. They said a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee would meet next week to discuss Israel's freeing more Palestinian prisoners.

"We have to focus on the continuation of negotiations to implement what we are committed to," Rabin said.

Some of Arafat's colleagues had urged him to suspend talks until Israel agreed to halt all settlements, including areas in and around Arab East Jerusalem. Israel had been reluctant to expand self-rule after attacks by Moslem groups opposed to peace moves.

The two leaders, meeting at the Erez crossing linking Palestinian-ruled Gaza to Israel, would not disclose any agreements they reached on the next phase of self-rule. Rabin said they would elaborate once agreements were reached.

Palestinian protests in the West Bank this week coincided with leaks to the media that Rabin's government planned to build up to 30,000 homes for Jews in occupied areas, mainly around Jerusalem, in the next four years.

On Wednesday Israeli leftists hinted rhw cabinet would on Sunday agree to freeze all public housing construction in the areas around East Jerusalem.