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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mideast Leaders Set Midnight Talks

JERUSALEM -- Marathon talks between Israel and the Palestinians neared the finish line Tuesday, with Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat set to meet later in the day to try and conclude an agreement on Hebron and a West Bank troop withdrawal.


"I think it's the finish," said U.S. Consul General Edward Abington, who has been involved in the talks.


Israeli officials said the two leaders would have to deal with several issues lower-level negotiators were unable to settle.


The summit was tentatively scheduled for midnight Tuesday local time at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.


Once the two leaders wrap up a deal, it is to be initialed by the chief negotiators from both sides, and then to be presented to both cabinets for approval.


Israeli Finance Minister Dan Meridor, who was holding talks in Jordan on Tuesday, said he was told by King Hussein a signing was expected soon. The king "told me that the talks are expected to bring about a signature on the agreement of Hebron tonight," Meridor told reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman.


Netanyahu faces a growing hardline revolt, with seven of his 18 Cabinet ministers having said they will vote against the agreement, and two more wavering.


A signing would give a boost to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has been troubled since the May election victory of Netanyahu, Israel's hardline leader.


Netanyahu would for the first time be personally committed to a Hebron pullback and a staged withdrawal in the West Bank.


As opposition leader, Netanyahu staunchly opposed the peace agreements negotiated by his dovish predecessors, and after taking office said he would honor the accords but had many reservations.


Israeli troops are expected to withdraw from 80 percent of Hebron within days of the signing of the agreement. The 500 Jewish settlers in the city of 130,000 Palestinians have spearheaded the campaign against the emerging agreement.


"Netanyahu is on the verge of making a pact with the devil," said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers. "If he goes through with this, he will place all of our lives in severe jeopardy."


Palestinians, meanwhile, started preparations for the Israeli pullout. Merchants painted over political graffiti on store front shutters in the downtown Bab Izawiya area, covering iron shutters with an Islamic green. Bab Izawiya was the scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli troops. Negotiations between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinians on a Hebron pullback began in October. Since then, the two sides have drafted an agreement on the Hebron troop redeployment, and have also agreed to a timetable for a three-stage Israeli troop withdrawal from West Bank rural areas.