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Israel Orders 3 Arab Offices Closed in Jerusalem : Mideast: Move will limit Palestinian Authority presence in disputed city. Rabin may be trying to show that he'll rein in PLO even amid peace talks.


JERUSALEM — Israel moved Monday against the Palestinian self-governing authority in the West Bank and Jerusalem even as it edged closer to signing a long-delayed agreement to extend Palestinian self-rule throughout the West Bank.

In Jerusalem, police served notice on three offices that Israel says are associated with the Palestinian Authority, warning that they must cease operation in 96 hours or be shut down.

Offices of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., the Health Council and the Bureau of Statistics were all ordered to close, said police spokesman Rafi Levy. The Israelis say the offices carry out functions for the Palestinian Authority, which they maintain is a violation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord signed in 1993.

In the West Bank, Israel delayed the exit from Jericho--the only city in the area now under Palestinian rule--of a senior Palestinian negotiator who was heading for talks under way in Eilat, Israel.

The Palestinians responded by breaking off negotiations for several hours until Col. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, was allowed to leave Jericho.

The moves could be seen as an effort by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to reassure Israelis that he will continue to crack down on Hamas militants and make no concessions on the status of Jerusalem as he prepares to hand over control of much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, Israeli analysts said. "Rabin is saying: Look, I may give the Palestinians more water rights in the West Bank, but I am hanging tough in Jerusalem," said a Foreign Ministry official.

But frustrated Palestinian officials accused the Israelis of trying to derail the negotiations on expanding self-rule at the last minute by taking what they said are steps aimed at embarrassing the Palestinian Authority.

"It is a political game to make the negotiations and the reaching of an agreement much more difficult," Mohammed Dahlan, head of Palestinian Preventive Security Service in Gaza, said in a telephone interview from Eilat, where he was participating in the negotiations. "As we get closer to a target date, obstacles are created to keep delaying the establishment of any Palestinian reality on the Palestinian lands."

Uri Savir, Israel's chief negotiator and the director general of the Foreign Ministry, told CNN Sunday night that he believes an agreement--covering the redeployment of Israeli troops out of West Bank towns and villages, and the framework for holding Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip--will be initialed Sept. 7.

Savir said there could be a formal signing ceremony of the accord--already delayed more than a year--in Washington by mid-September.

The two sides have produced a text of the agreement, and a meeting is expected between Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres next week to resolve remaining differences over security arrangements in the West Bank town of Hebron, where about 400 Jewish settlers live in the heart of an overwhelmingly Palestinian area.

But tempers on both sides are growing short as the signing date approaches.

In Jericho on Monday, hundreds of residents protested at the city's southern entrance, demanding that the Israeli army reopen Jericho, which it closed off six days ago. Israel Radio said some demonstrators stoned the Israeli army checkpoint there, injuring three border patrol officers.

"Israel is daily giving ammunition to the opponents of peace by continuing the closure of Jericho, and by closing the Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem," said Faisal Husseini, a minister without portfolio in the Palestinian Authority responsible for Jerusalem.

Israeli officials have offered different explanations since they closed Jericho last week. Security sources first told Israeli military correspondents they meant to force the Palestinian Authority to hand over two suspected members of the military wing of the Islamic militant organization Hamas.

Israel says Abdel-Majid Dudein and Rajid Khatib helped plan a bombing on a Jerusalem bus Aug. 21 that killed four Israelis, an American and the bomber. The Palestinian Authority arrested Dudein and Khatib on Wednesday, then put them on trial Saturday before a hastily convened court in Jericho. They were sentenced to long prison terms for unspecified crimes against the Palestinian Authority.

After the sentencing, Israeli Cabinet ministers said the closure would remain until the Palestinian Authority extradited Dudein and Khatib to Israel to stand trial for engaging in terrorism.

But Peres and Justice Minister David Libai said Sunday night that Israel had no legal standing to extradite the two, because they had allegedly committed their crimes in Jericho, not in Israeli territory. Peres and Libai also said that the Palestinian Authority has no obligation to extradite convicted criminals until after they serve their sentences.

Late Monday night, the army announced that it will partially lift the closure of Jericho today, allowing women, children and men older than 35 to freely enter and leave the area.

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