The PLO and Israel made little headway at peace talks in Cairo in mid- April as they continued to discuss the numbers of Palestinian detainees to be released. Despite the slow progress in Cairo, the US is pressing other Arab negotiating teams to resume the talks and has announced that Secretary of State Warren Christopher will visit the region in late April.

Two senior Palestinian negotiators walked out of talks in Cairo on 17 April, accusing Israel of reneging on a deal reached in the previous round. They said Israel had attempted to reduce from 5,000 the number of Palestinian detainees to be released once an agreement was signed. The Israeli team later accepted the initial figure, which is still short of the Palestinian demand for the release of 8,500.

Tension in the occupied territories rose after Israeli forces carried out a security sweep. By 20 April, they had arrested 362 Palestinians accused of supporting the Islamist group Hamas. Hamas had earlier claimed responsibility for two bomb attacks in Israel which killed 12 people.

Hamas says the bombing campaign in Israel will continue. Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, quoted by newspapers in Jordan, said the group would end its attacks if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s visit to the region, starting on 24 April, is intended to persuade Syria, in particular, to resume bilateral talks with Israel.

The Israeli government’s conditions for agreement with Syria were outlined in Israeli press reports in mid-April. Following an Israeli declaration of intent to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the actual withdrawal would be implemented in phases over a period of years, according to the reports. In response to the first phase withdrawal, full diplomatic relations would be established and the border would be opened for trade. Security arrangements would include a demilitarised zone that would be wider on the Syrian side, the reports said.