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PLO, ISRAELI NEGOTIATORS STRUGGLING TO REACH ACCORD THIS WEEK ON PULLOUT

PLO and Israeli negotiators met again in Cairo today but gave no public indication of how much more time they need to agree on details of Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho.

Sunday, the first day of this round in the drawn-out talks, they said they hoped to have the agreement ready this week for PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to sign next week.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher arrives in Cairo Wednesday, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres could come Thursday if the talks make enough progress.

The signing will crown almost five months of talks and will be the most important landmark in the PLO-Israeli peace process since they signed a preliminary agreement last September.

But today, PLO sources were not optimistic.

The chief PLO negotiator, Nabil Shaath, refused to talk to reporters, apparently because he was angry at criticism of his delegation by some Palestinian leaders.

One PLO source said Shaath was also impatient with the pace of negotiations. "Things are moving slowly," he said.

Sources close to the Israeli delegation said the main dispute at this stage was over how much control an autonomous Palestinian local government in Gaza would have over the coastline and the airspace above the strip.

The Israelis, they said, wanted to make sure no one could enter Gaza without passing through Israeli controls.

There was no immediate word on two other important disputes -- over the scope of Palestinian law in the two self-rule areas and the fate of 8,400 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The so-called jurisdiction issue almost brought the talks to a standstill last week, but the Palestinians said the Israelis later improved their offer.

The Israeli delegation, led by deputy chief of staff Amnon Shahak, was expected to bring back a formal version of this improved offer when they arrived on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear what the PLO thought of the text Israel had drafted.

One PLO delegate said the Palestinians were not happy with the Israeli draft on some security arrangements.

He said it did not reflect what the PLO thought they agreed to orally last week.

"We wasted hours rewriting it," he added.

The PLO is pressing Israel to agree to release 2,000 Palestinian prisoners in July, on top of 2,500 when they sign an agreement and 2,500 three weeks later.

That would leave Arafat and Rabin to decide the fate of the remaining 1,400, who are mostly members of the Muslim fundamentalist group Hamas.

The Israelis are unwilling to set a firm date for freeing members of Hamas, which opposes the peace talks and says it will keep attacking Israelis.

Another dispute is over Palestinians who have collaborated with the Israeli authorities.

Israel is pressing the Palestinians to include them in a comprehensive amnesty, but the PLO is resisting this, sources close to the talks said.

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