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Israel ready to cut back on settlement, paper reports

Israel will offer the Palestinians a temporary cutback in Jewish settlement construction if they shelve demands to win control over more West Bank land, two Israeli newspapers reported Thursday.

Foreign Minister David Levy will make the offer at a meeting in Washington next week with Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, the daily Haaretz and Maariv newspapers reported.The Palestinians rejected such an idea Thursday, saying they would insist that Israel carry out its U.S.-backed promise to pull back troops in the West Bank in three stages by mid-1998.

"What is temporary?" Arafat adviser Nabil Abourdeneh said when asked about the reported Israeli offer. "For us the most important thing is the (troop) redeployment."

Meanwhile, the Arabic language daily Fasel Al Makal, published in Israel, said Thursday that Israel and the Palestinians have set up a secret channel to discuss peace.