Israel, PLO report breakthrough

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JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meeting in Cairo have announced a breakthrough in their talks on extending Palestinian self-rule to the West Bank.

The head of the Israeli team, Maj. Gen. Oren Shahor, told reporters Tuesday that the talks would now focus on the transfer of authority in more than 30 spheres of local government in the West Bank.

Previously, Israel had insisted on a so-called "early empowerment" in only eight spheres of civilian control, despite Palestinian demands for full autonomy in the West Bank.

"The Palestinian delegation last week asked us to change the idea of early empowerment and to do it this way. We had discussions, and we decided on it," said Shahor, who described the change in Israel's negotiating policy as a show of "good will."

Jamil Tarifi, the head of the Palestinian delegation, expressed satisfaction with the new focus of negotiations.

"Today we heard a new position from the Israeli delegation," he said. "We are happy to hear this."

Tuesday's breakthrough comes just weeks before the previously agreed upon July 1 deadline for reaching agreement on the next phase of Palestinian self-rule: the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Arab population centers in the West Bank and the holding of Palestinian elections.

Some Palestinian officials have warned of a large-scale outbreak of unrest among Palestinians if that deadline is not met.

Under the terms of the self-rule accord, implementation of the next phase of Palestinian self-rule was slated to go into effect in July 1994. But it was delayed in part by a series of terror attacks against Israelis launched by Islamic fundamentalist opponents to the accord.

Despite Tuesday's breakthrough, the two sides still have major obstacles to overcome.

Separate negotiations on Palestinian elections have hit snags over the size of the Palestinian council that will be elected and over the question of whether Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem will be able to run in the elections.

And disagreements over the Israeli army's redeployment in the West Bank still loom, with Israel offering only a partial redeployment. Palestinian officials have countered that this would represent a breach of the self-rule accord and that they will not hold elections under Israeli guns.