- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed talks yesterday on improving life for Palestinians, negotiations that were broken off after 12 Israeli residents were killed in attacks that also prompted Israel to freeze plans to relax restrictions on Palestinian territories.
The talks between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat opened late yesterday, an Israeli official said.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Dan Naveh, who also participated in the discussions, said earlier in the day that the goal was to improve the humanitarian situation of Palestinians, whose economy has been shattered by nearly 22 months of fighting and more recently by Israel's monthlong occupation of seven West Bank cities.
Before fighting erupted in September 2000, an estimated 125,000 Palestinians crossed daily into Israel for work. Israel since has blocked most Palestinians from entering. Closures in the West Bank and curfews in individual towns have further prevented Palestinians from working.
Two weeks ago, Israeli Cabinet members approved some measures to ease the situation, including increasing the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel from 2,000 to 7,000, a security official said yesterday.
However, the West Bank bus ambush on Tuesday and a double suicide attack in Tel Aviv a day later led Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to freeze implementation of those decisions, the unidentified official said.
Mr. Naveh, a member of the hawkish Likud party, said the Israeli government agreed the Palestinian economic situation had to improve, but he stressed that aid must not be used to fund terror attacks.
An aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said success in the meetings would be contingent on Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank towns and cities it occupied a month ago after a string of attacks.
"I believe if Israel is really serious in the resumption of the political process, they have first to immediately withdraw from the Palestinian territories," he told reporters in Ramallah after Mr. Arafat met with Russian envoy Andre Vedovin.
During the meeting yesterday, there was broad international criticism of an Israeli government proposal to deport relatives of suicide bombers to the Gaza Strip to dissuade future attackers.
The issue arose after Israeli forces on Friday demolished the homes of two suspects in attacks last week and arrested 21 of their relatives. Israeli officials said the government was considering deporting those who had a direct link to attacks.
Yesterday, the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, joined Amnesty International, the U.N. secretary-general and Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups in saying the forced deportation violated international law. The White House also criticized the move and said it would take the matter up with the Israeli government.
Mr. Naveh defended the proposal and denied critics' claims that it amounted to collective punishment, which is barred under the Geneva Conventions. He said deportation was a way to counter the support families of suicide bombers receive from such militant groups as Hamas and from Iraq, which sends up to $25,000 each to families of bombers.

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