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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Negotiators Hopeful on Hebron

JERUSALEM -- Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Palestinian negotiators Monday who said that a U.S-brokered deal to break a peace deadlock over Hebron could be clinched by Christmas.


Netanyahu later scheduled a meeting with senior ministers to discuss Hebron, Israeli officials said.


In Hebron, an Israeli truck took beds and equipment from the military governor's office in the center of the city, but officials declined to say whether final preparations for a long-delayed troop redeployment were underway.


Only six military vehicles were left at the office, the nerve center of Israel's military occupation of Hebron since 1967, reporters said.


Netanyahu joined talks with Palestinians while U.S. special envoy Dennis Ross flew to Cairo to brief Egypt, a key player in efforts to reach agreement on an Israeli pullback in the West Bank town.


Palestinian officials said there was agreement on some major disputed points, but other issues were left to be resolved in a meeting yet to be arranged between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.


Asked if an agreement would be reached Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, said, "Everything is possible."


Arafat himself said a meeting might take place Monday night.


The U.S. envoy arrived in the Middle East on Saturday saying he hoped to re-energize talks. But he had played down hopes of a breakthrough, saying only that he expected to report to President Bill Clinton after a couple of days.


Only last week Arafat was questioning Ross's objectivity. But after meeting Ross for a second time in two days, Arafat expressed his thanks for the American's support.


The U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, Edward Abington, said Ross would return Monday after briefing the Egyptians.


Israel and the PLO have accused each other of foot-dragging in more than three months of talks on Hebron, 80 percent of which was due to have been handed over to Arafat's Palestinian Authority months ago.


Netanyahu, who came to power in June vowing to take a tough line on Israeli security, has demanded protection for 400 Jewish militants in the heart of the city of 100,000 Arabs, a longtime flashpoint of violence between Arabs and Jews.


Talks on Hebron, the main issue blocking further progress in more than three years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, have had their ups and downs in the past with optimistic forecasts being dashed by new disagreements.


"We can't say we have an agreement until everything is put on paper and we haven't done that yet," said a senior PLO official. "We could have an agreement within 24 hours and we could be delayed for another month at least."


PLO officials said the Israelis had dropped their insistence on having the right of hot pursuit of Palestinian suspects into PLO-held areas, accepting instead existing language in the Hebron handover agreement signed in 1995.


One PLO official said agreement had also been reached to reopen Martyrs Street in the heart of town within four months. It has been closed to Palestinians. It was also agreed to reopen the long-closed vegetable market so long as it was a retail rather than a wholesale market.