Palestinians say talks with Israel to start Tuesday

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet in Washington on Tuesday for a round of talks after a three-year break, a Palestinian official said on Saturday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that the Palestinian delegation would be led by chief negotiator Saeb Erakat with the Israelis headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

US officials would also take part, he added.

The sides are expected to meet for an informal dinner on Monday evening, he said.

Israel's Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said this week that talks could resume on Tuesday, but neither the date nor venue have so far been confirmed.

Livni, Israel's designated chief negotiator, will reportedly be accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal envoy Yitzhak Molcho.

"According to senior officials in Jerusalem, the meeting in Washington is expected to deal primarily with the agenda for holding negotiations, including the subjects to be discussed and the timetable," Haaretz newspaper said on Thursday.

On Saturday, both Haaretz and public radio reported that Israel was expected to release more than 100 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners in stages during the talks, which are expected to last for six to nine months.

An Israeli official said this week that the release of "around 80" long-serving Palestinian prisoners was being considered.

The agenda for Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting says Netanyahu will tell ministers about the resumption of the talks, and also ask them to approve the "release of Palestinian prisoners during the course of negotiations". It did not give a number.

The cabinet is also set to endorse a draft bill which would submit a peace treaty with the Palestinians to a referendum.

Such a vote would be a final endorsement of a treaty after ratification by the government and parliament.

A briefing paper published by the cabinet office said the proposal comes "in light of the significant diplomatic developments accompanying the opening of negotiations by the state of Israel with the Palestinian Authority".

The draft is seen as a gesture to right-wing ministers apprehensive of concessions that could be demanded of Israel in the talks.

The cabinet paper said the government saw approval of the new draft as "urgent and important" and said it would be asking parliament to streamline its passage into law.

na-scw/dv