Israel gives land prior to talks


Israel's cabinet gave the go-ahead yesterday to the handover of another 6.1 per cent of the West Bank to full Palestinian control, clearing the way for the renewal of peace negotiations near Washington tomorrow.

A statement from the office of the Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, revising earlier figures, said 16 ministers voted in favour of the handover and six against, with no abstentions.

The land transfer, two months overdue, will coincide with the resumption tomorrow of US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at sealing a permanent peace treaty by September.

Negotiators are to meet at Bolling Air Force base near Washington for a round which the US State Department said could last two weeks.

The handover will bring the area of land under full or partial Palestinian control to 39.8 per cent of the West Bank, said Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh. Palestinian officials had said last week the total would be 42.9 per cent after the transfer.

"Sixty per cent of the (West Bank Palestinian) population and all the major cities, from this week, will be under full Palestinian authority," Mr Sneh said.

The step was scheduled for January 20th under interim peace deals, but was delayed in wrangling over areas to be ceded.