Talks over an Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank town of Hebron resumed Saturday night, and a Palestinian negotiator said a deal could soon be reached if Israel offered "practical responses" to concerns over security arrangements.
U.S. mediator Dennis Ross had spent much of Saturday working behind the scenes trying to bridge gaps between Israel and the Palestinians over Hebron. Ross met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday and visited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his Gaza office Friday.Formal negotiations resumed late Saturday in Tel Aviv, Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogl said.
Jibril Rajoub, Arafat's West Bank security chief, said differences remained on security issues, and that if Israel can answer these concerns "then it could be wrapped up tonight." He said Arafat and Netanyahu could meet as early as today to finalize a deal.
In Jerusalem, about 10,000 Israelis carrying torches marched to Netanyahu's office Saturday to press for a quick withdrawal from Hebron, a city of 94,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers.
The marchers carried torches and banners reading "Give back Hebron."
Demonstrators also carried posters of Yitzhak Rabin, marking the first anniversary of the prime minister's assassination by a Jewish opponent of land-for-peace agreements with the Palestinians. Many of the marchers paid tribute at Rabin's grave.
Three people at the rally site were arrested for instigation, including one man who burned a photograph of Rabin, police spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby said.
Disputes over Hebron center on demands Israel says are necessary to protect the safety of Jewish settlers. Israel wants to have the right to chase suspects into Palestinian-controlled territory; to restrict Palestinian police to carrying pistols, not rifles, while patrolling near Jewish enclaves; and to prevent a vegetable market from reopening near the settler areas.
An agreement between Israel's previous government and the Palestinians called for Israeli soldiers to leave 80 percent of Hebron.
Earlier Saturday, Arafat's Cabinet said the Palestinians would not agree to change "even a comma" in peace agreements already signed with Israel.