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Mideast talks sidestep impasse; more planned

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Time running out

Israeli election looms


TABA, Egypt (CNN) -- After an overnight impasse, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators returned to the table in Egypt on Friday and planned informal meetings on the Israeli side of the border after the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown.

The negotiators, meeting for a fifth day of intense talks, were putting forth a concerted effort to reach some sort of agreement before the talks break off for the Israeli election, to be held on February 6.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on sticking points in the talks (January 26)

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CNN's Andrea Koppel reports on the history of the Mideast peace process

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graphicIn-Depth: Israel Election 2001
graphic Recent acts of violence in the Middle East:
 •  Bombings
 •  Activist deaths

Israeli radio said the delegates discussed on Friday the right of millions of refugees and their descendants to return to regions in what is now Israel. The Israelis have rejected the so-called "right of return" for Palestinians who were displaced after Israel gained statehood in 1948.

The talks hit a snag Thursday night over how to handle ongoing violence in the region, and the two sides spent the evening consulting separately about how to proceed.

The delegations returned on Friday morning to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba, where sources reported some progress on all four core issues separating the two sides -- the fate of refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state and security.

Time running out

Both sides were equally skeptical that time would allow an agreement.

"I think it is very difficult to reach an agreement in the time left," said senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei. "We might end this negotiation at a certain point that keeps the momentum until after the election."

But, Qorei told CNN, "We still do have time."

Israeli delegate Yossi Sarid said the two sides were "making a very serious effort to achieve as much as possible."

CNN's Jerrold Kessel said that the delegates met for about four hours on Friday morning before continuing their talks over lunch.

After lunch, the Israeli delegation left for Eilat, just across the border in Israel, where they will remain during the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown.

The Palestinian negotiators planned to travel to Eilat for informal talks with the Israelis over dinner, and also planned more informal discussion on Saturday morning. The Jewish Sabbath ends at sundown on Saturday.

Israeli election looms large

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak wants an agreement before the February 6 elections, when he faces hard-line Likud party leader Ariel Sharon for his post.

Sharon holds a commanding lead over Barak in opinion polls, and many analysts see an agreement with the Palestinians as Barak's only hope for victory -- and even that would not guarantee Barak could keep his job.

Sharon has said he would not honor any agreement emerging from the talks and Palestinians say his election could kill the peace process.

The current round of talks started last Sunday but were suspended pending the funerals of two Israelis killed Tuesday. The negotiations resumed after funerals for the two, but more violence on Thursday -- two Palestinians reportedly killed by Israeli troops and an Israeli allegedly shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen -- cast another shadow over the attempt to find a solution to five decades of conflict.

More than 400 people have been killed in the violence since September 28 last year. The Palestine Red Crescent Society reports that 345 of the dead were Palestinians, and the Israel Defense Forces lists 50 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs dead.

CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

Killings overshadow Mideast talks
January 25, 2001
Israeli minister returns to talks venue
January 24, 2001
Mideast peace talks could resume on Thursday
January 24, 2001
Decision on Mideast peace talks due Wednesday
January 23, 2001
'Serious' Mideast peace talks to continue in Israel
January 22, 2001
Marathon talks for Mideast peace
January 21, 2001
Israel considers talks proposal as Clinton steps aside
January 20, 2001
Clinton addresses open letters to Israelis, Palestinians
January 19, 2001

Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Palestinian National Authority
Palestine Red Crescent Society
PLO Negotiations Affairs Deparment
Israel Defense Forces

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