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Wednesday, August 09, 2000, updated at 22:04(GMT+8)

Israeli Minister Denies Hebron Evacuation

Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin Wednesday morning denied reports that the Israeli government is planning to evacuate Jews in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said, according to an interview published by a Palestinian newspaper Wednesday, that during the Camp David summit last month, Israel agreed to cleanse Hebron of the Jewish residents in the implementation of the final status agreement.

But Beilin, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's confidant, said he does not believe there is a reason for Jews to leave Hebron.

The Jews are living alongside the Arabs there now and there is no reason for them not to continue... especially since Hebron is so important to the Jews, Beilin told Israel Radio.

Hebron, a religious holy city both for the Jews and for the Muslims, has been a Palestinian-controlled city in the south of the West Bank since Israeli withdrawal in 1997.

However, there are still 500 Jewish settlers living in the city under heavy military protection by Israeli forces, while the city has an Arab population of about 130,000.

Earlier Wednesday, Barak's office also denied Erekat's remarks that there are proposals dealing with the uprooting of all Jews from the city in the final status stage of the Oslo peace process.

Officials in the office stated that at Camp David, all the three sides - Israel, the Palestinians and the United States - raised various proposals and exchanged ideas, but no proposals were accepted or decided upon.

Therefore, the remarks by Erekat remains in the realm of speculation and carries no significance at this time, said the officials.

The 15-day-long summit talks, attended by Barak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Bill Clinton, failed to reach any agreement but reportedly made some progress last month.

In response to Erekat's remarks, leaders of the Hebron Jewish community stated they will prevent any attempt to give Hebron to the Palestinians at all costs and without limits.

In another development, Beilin announced Wednesday morning that he is due to leave for Washington later Wednesday to attend an international conference and hold talks on the peace process with US officials, probably including Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

The tour is part of a series of shuttle visits by Israeli ministers to explain to the world leaders Israeli views on the peace process, in order to counteract Arafat's similar efforts in the past weeks.

Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Transport and Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak will also be dispatched to several countries in the next few days.

Beilin denied he is going to the US for preparing a possible second summit next week.

I don't believe there will be a summit in the same form as the previous one now, he said.

Since the Camp David summit failure, Arafat and other Palestinian officials has stated that it is possible to arrange another summit to add a final stroke for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

Israel's leading opposition Likud party also claimed that they has information that Barak will go to Washington again on August 27 for a second summit with Arafat.

In This Section

Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin Wednesday morning denied reports that the Israeli government is planning to evacuate Jews in the West Bank city of Hebron.

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