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Palestinians training for statehood

Diplomats prepare for consequences of Sept. 13 event

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — With the Palestinians set to declare a state next month — with or without Israel's approval — Palestinian diplomats began training Saturday to deal with the consequences, including possible escalating tensions with Israel.

In the two-week course in Gaza that opened Saturday, 22 veteran diplomats are reviewing the Palestinians' positions and studying how to push for international support if a state is declared.

The Palestinian Cabinet said in a meeting Friday that the declaration will be made Sept. 13, even if a final peace accord with Israel is not reached in time. If that happens, Israel has warned that it might annex parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — a move that could deteriorate into violence.

The diplomats at the course — part of a program to develop a Palestinian Foreign Ministry — already work in some of the Palestinian Authority's 59 embassies around the world. The authority also has about 27 delegations and missions, said Ahmed Soubeh, general director of the diplomatic training center.

Cabinet Secretary-General Ahmed Abdel Rahman told the diplomats they may have to act under difficult circumstances if the declaration is made without Israeli approval.

"Of course our diplomats will be ready for any emergency situation," Soubeh said. "We don't expect any confrontation. We hope that the Israelis will be the first to recognize our state."

The diplomats will be called on to gain support from countries like the United States, Canada and western European nations who have not yet given their final approval for a declaration.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat committed to declare a state next month — the deadline Israel and the Palestinians set earlier for reaching a peace deal.

Arafat aides had suggested before the Cabinet meeting Friday that the declaration could be put off until November.

Arafat traveled to Turkey Saturday to meet leaders there as part of his campaign to win international approval for a declaration.

The United States supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, but only as a result of the peace process. The negotiations faltered last month when a summit brokered by President Clinton at Camp David between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak failed.

When asked if the Palestinians would open an embassy in Tel Aviv in the near future, Abdel Rahman replied: "That's a simple mission. It will happen when Israel recognizes the declaration of Palestinian state."