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Tensions run high in Israel as peace deadlines approach
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are due to meet again Sunday for the next round of talks on a peace agreement between the two sides.
A deadline of September has been set for the final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians which will deal with some of the most contentious issues between them -- borders, refugees, the future of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements among them.
But with these crucial deadlines approaching, a clash between Israeli and Palestinian security forces on Monday over alleged dumping of raw sewage is symptomatic of how high tensions are, and how much detail remains to be resolved.
Palestinians tried to use a bulldozer to redirect sewage pouring from the Kfar Darom Jewish settlement in Gaza onto Palestinian agricultural land.
Israeli paramilitary police blocked the path of the bulldozer and scuffles broke out. Palestinian police and Israeli troops exchanged blows before the situation was eventually resolved with the bulldozer being allowed to continue.
Palestinians have repeatedly complained of sewage from Jewish settlements being dumped in Palestinian areas, causing health and environmental problems.
Fear of major outbreaks of violence
The fear of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders is that without progress in the peace talks such incidents could spark major outbreaks of violence.
Both sides agree that chances for a final peace agreement this year are minimal.
"The gaps between us and the Israelis are so big that we need to be very careful," said the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat.
Chief Israeli negotiator Oded Eran describes progress in the talks as "less rather than more."
"We have started to discuss the skeleton of an agreement. That is to say the headlines and the subheadlines of a framework agreement," said Eran.
For Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has promised his supporters a Palestinian state, these negotiations may represent the end game.
Palestinian analysts say that Arafat's constituency will not allow any more postponements and some are predicting that, without concrete results, anti-Israel protests could turn into anti-Arafat demonstrations.
Barak remains optimistic
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak remains optimistic.
"There is a golden opportunity with Arafat in power, with Clinton still in power, with this government in Israel that wants to make peace," Barak said.
U.S. President Bill Clinton has held separate meetings with Barak and Arafat in Washington this month and discussed ways to move the talks forward.
The Palestinians remain far more skeptical than the Israelis.
"If a Palestinian state is declared....east Jerusalem will be its capital and without solving the refugee problem, I don't think you can have an end of the conflict," said Erakat.
But both sides agree they will not allow the Americans to force a decision upon them.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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