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PALESTINIANS DOWNPLAY PROGRESS OF TALKS

Palestinian ministers on Saturday played down progress made in talks with Israel, saying an agreement on expanding autonomy in the West Bank could take weeks to conclude.

The ministers spoke after discussing an agreement reached Friday between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO chief Yasser Arafat.Palestinian Finance Minister Mohammed Nashashibi said the document initialed in the Egyptian resort of Taba was "just a joint statement."

"I'm not happy with it because it hasn't accomplished enough . . . and it didn't finalize many important issues," Nashashibi said.

Labor Minister Samir Ghosheh said that despite flexibility in some areas, the Israelis "were dragging their feet" on issues such as troop redeployment in the tense West Bank city of Hebron and sharing water.

"We still need weeks before we reach a clear and definite agreement," he said.

In remarks broadcast by Israel television Saturday, Peres said Friday's agreement kept the flagging negotiations on track.