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A Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official said yesterday the return of 396 Palestinian expellees was not enough to revive flagging Middle East peace talks, although it was an essential first step.

Nabil Shaath said United States intervention was needed to persuade Israel to drop its plan to divide the West Bank into areas of Palestinian, Israeli, and joint control, to accept that the status of Jerusalem should be discussed, and to talk directly with the PLO.

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Mr. Shaath, political adviser to PLO leader Yasser Arafat, said the Palestinian conditions were discussed at talks between Mr. Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. Shaath said the US, co-sponsor of the peace talks, must use its influence with Israel to take back all Palestinian expellees immediately, otherwise it would lose its credibility among Arabs.

Shaath said the PLO wanted the US to speed up "public and official" PLO representation, both on the negotiation table and in dialogue with the US government, after a new Israeli law lifted restrictions on contact with the PLO.

Palestinians have spurned a US-brokered Israeli offer to repatriate 101 of the deportees. He said peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi would relay the Palestinian position to US officials in Washington before the visit of US Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the Middle East.

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