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Weizman meets with Mubarak Israeli president continues efforts to reassure Arabs; Suspense over Hebron; Accord on pullout may be near; both sides warn of snags

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Persisting in his self-appointed role as peace envoy, Israeli President Ezer Weizman traveled to Egypt yesterday to reassure an increasingly distrustful President Hosni Mubarak that the Israeli government would abide by its commitments to the Palestinians.

As Weizman began his visit, there was growing suspense and speculation about the U.S.-brokered negotiations over the transfer of authority in the West Bank city of Hebron from Israel to the Palestinians.

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While the formal negotiations were suspended for the day, it was reported that the U.S. mediator, Dennis B. Ross, was pursuing urgent contacts with both sides, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before long to resolve remaining obstacles to the Israeli withdrawal from most of Hebron. But officials on both sides cautioned that there were still serious differences to be resolved.

The negotiations are to resume today at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. Under previous agreements, Israel is to withdraw its troops from most of Hebron, in which an enclave of Jewish settlers lives amid a Palestinian population, but Netanyahu has asked for new security arrangements.

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Weizman's visit to Cairo followed a sharp deterioration of relations between Egypt and Israel since Netanyahu and his conservative Likud government took office in June. Mubarak declined to attend the Washington summit meeting with Netanyahu and Arafat this month, and he has declared that he will not meet with Netanyahu until an agreement is reached on Hebron.

By contrast, Israeli television showed Weizman receiving a full state reception, with honor guard, anthems and some jovial bantering with Mubarak.

The Israeli president then said at a news conference: "The government has perhaps slowed down, but I'm sure as I've said to President Mubarak that the government of Israel will continue and do all its best to achieve peace with the Palestinians."

Weizman told reporters on the flight to Cairo, "If somebody thinks that he or others will use me, or others like me, to undermine Netanyahu's position, they are making a great mistake." His reference to "others" was evidently to Shimon Peres, the former prime minister and now opposition leader, who has also been invited to Cairo.

King Hussein of Jordan has also invited Weizman to visit him.

Aides to Netanyahu made no secret that these forays have irritated the prime minister, but he has refrained from any public criticism of the popular president.

In August, Weizman stepped in to demand that Netanyahu meet with Arafat, warning that he would invite the Palestinian if the prime minister did not. Last week, the president was host to Arafat at an amiable lunch at his seaside villa.

The main effect of the president's actions have been to enable the Arab leaders to demonstrate that their displeasure is not with Israel in general, but with Netanyahu in particular.

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Weizman's readiness to step out of the ceremonial function of his office became evident under the last government, though at that time his criticism was that the political process was moving too fast.

Relations with King Hussein, which also took a slide after clashes between Palestinians and Israelis last month, appeared to ease with reports that an accord over Hebron may be near. Officials said the king telephoned Netanyahu yesterday to tell him he had heard there was progress in the negotiations.

Hussein also announced that he would personally fly Arafat, who is in Jordan on a visit, back to the West Bank city of Jericho today. The announcement prompted speculation that the king might meet there with Netanyahu. Israeli officials said such a meeting was unlikely.

While Arab leaders were seeking to put pressure on Netanyahu by courting political figures around him, Israeli television showed Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, a relative moderate, arriving in Washington to a warm welcome.

Netanyahu also faced pressures at home as his coalition in Parliament survived its first no-confidence vote. The motion, brought by the Labor Party, was defeated 55-49, with two abstentions.

Pub Date: 10/15/96


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