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Israel, Palestinians miss accord deadline
JERUSALEM, Israel (CNN) -- Israel and the Palestinians failed to meet Sunday's deadline to agree to the framework for a permanent peace settlement, which is expected to be reached by mid-September.
They blamed each other for failing to honor the deadline to seal a draft accord on the thorny issues of the fate of Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood, refugees, relocating Jewish settlements and water sharing.
They had earlier conceded they would miss the Sunday target. Talks were suspended after a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat failed 10 days ago over Israel's handover of West Bank land, the heart of their negotiations.
Israel was to hand over another 6.1 percent of the West Bank land to Palestinians on January 20, but Barak postponed the transfer, delayed further by Barak's rejection of Palestinian demands to share in deciding the specific areas to be ceded.
Oded Eran, head of the Israeli negotiating team, told CNN that Israel was willing to resume discussions as soon as possible. "We haven't sat down (to talk) for two weeks," he said.
"Unfortunately the Palestinian side has decided to freeze the negotiations over several issues which I think should be aired and negotiated rather than bring the negotiations to a hold," Eran said.
Saeb Erkat, leader of the Palestinian team, argued that his side was "not obliged to continue pursuing a framework agreement."
"Now we should concentrate on permanent status negotiations to reach an agreement" by the September 13 deadline, he said. "I don't think it's a matter of negotiations. It will require a political decision from the government of Mr. Barak."
Popular support dwindling
Observers fear that a spate of missed deadlines is undermining popular support for the entire peace process. It's also unclear how Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will come to terms on land sharing and the West Bank settlements.
"Right now, Mr. Barak's maximum does not meet the Palestinian minimum," said Chemi Shelvi, an Israeli analyst. "If there is a reason why there won't be an agreement between both sides, it's because of the land and the settlements."
Israel increases security presence
Meanwhile, security was beefed up across Israel and the occupied territories Sunday in case Palestinian militant groups were to threaten to bomb.
There were reports of police and army contingents watching market centers, shopping malls and bus stations. Roadblocks had been put up on major routes to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Israeli army units had also stepped up checks at West Bank and Gaza Strip areas. A group of Palestinians associated with Hamas, an Islamic group with a militant arm, were arrested Thursday. They were linked with a possible bomb-making outfit in Nablus, a northern town in the West Bank.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.
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