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Palestinians reject plan for 10% Israeli withdrawal

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday rejected a plan for a limited Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, but Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called his response "hasty" and asked him to reconsider, a Palestinian official said.

Albright asked Arafat to take two weeks to rethink his response to a plan she presented that would turn over 10 percent more of the West Bank to Palestinian control in three phases, according to a senior Palestinian official present at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity.The Palestinians have full or partial control over 27 percent of the West Bank and have said they want control of more than 90 percent before a final peace settlement with Israel.

David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the phased plan was an American idea, "likely based on what the Americans have surmised Israel is ready to offer." He added that Israel "insists on concrete action on the part of the Palestinian Authority before any territory is relinquished."

Israel's Cabinet has come up with a list of demands - most related to security - that the Palestinians must meet before Israel withdraws from any territory.

Assessments of Albright's weekend meetings with Arafat and Netanyahu were discouraging.

Albright said the two sides agreed to send envoys to Washington next week to try to break the yearlong impasse in the peace process, but acknowledged only "minimal progress" during her whirlwind visit.

Netanyahu, speaking Sunday night to a group of American Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, said there were "substantial gaps" and that there had been no agreement on the extent of the withdrawal.

"I think we've made some progress, but I wouldn't overstate it," he said.

Underscoring tensions, Israeli troops and Palestinian police briefly trained weapons on one another during a clash in the West Bank town of Bethlehem - the second such face-off in recent weeks.

Sunday's fighting marked the third day of battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in Bethlehem. In the clash - on the line between an Israeli-controlled area and a Palestinian-controlled one - about 50 young people hurled rocks and bottles at the soldiers, who fired back rubber bullets and tear gas.

Two protesters were hit with rubber-coated steel pellets and four suffered tear-gas inhalation.

Albright, preparing to depart for a round of regional diplomacy on the crisis in Iraq, told reporters in Jerusalem she had "hoped we would get further on this trip than we have."