JERUSALEM Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas convened his Cabinet on Saturday to resolve internal squabbles ahead of his summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later in the day.
It will be the highest-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting since violence erupted in September 2000.
A key issue on the agenda is the U.S.-backed "road map," a three-stage peace plan that spells out steps toward ending violence and establishing a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians have accepted the plan as is, while Sharon has listed 15 objections. Abbas will ask Sharon to accept the plan.
"In this meeting we are seeking a clear Israeli answer concerning the road map and we will not accept any reservation, not 13 not even one," said the Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath.
However, Sharon is not expected to comply, waiting instead to discuss his reservations with President Bush in a White House meeting next week.
Israel Radio reported that Sharon would offer to withdraw troops from the northern end of the Gaza Strip as a security experiment. Palestinian security forces would take control in that area, and be expected to prevent rocket fire on Israeli border communities.
If the test succeeds, Israel would withdraw from additional territory, the report said.
The Palestinians demand that Israel lift a travel ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah for more than a year. They also want Israel to halt military incursions, ease closures of the West Bank and Gaza, stop targeted killings of suspected militants and release prisoners.
Israel insists that the Palestinians first rein in militants who have carried out scores of shootings and bombings in Israel in the past 31 months. Israeli officials say they will focus on security issues during the summit.
Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, meanwhile, accused Arafat of working behind the scenes to undermine peace efforts.
"Arafat is doing his best to torpedo the process," Lapid said. "I hope that (Arafat's) efforts will fail. This doesn't depend on us."
Israel and the United States consider Abbas their main negotiating partner and are boycotting Arafat, who they say is linked to terrorism.
A Cabinet minister close to Arafat, Saeb Erekat, who has played a prominent role in peace talks in the past decade, resigned after being excluded from the summit an action that appeared to be linked both to the perceived slight by Abbas and to tensions between Abbas and Arafat.
For decades, Arafat resisted sharing power with anyone and only reluctantly agreed to naming a prime minister.
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, later accepted Erekat's resignation during a Cabinet meeting Saturday in the Gaza Strip, Erekat told The Associated Press.
"I insisted on the resignation," Erekat said. "I wish the best of success to the government of Abu Mazen. I want to tell them, 'Go ahead in negotiations, but first you have to bring the Israeli acceptance to the road map.' "
Abbas will be accompanied to his meeting with Sharon by Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan. Sharon, in turn, will take along three advisers.
The meeting was to take place at Sharon's residence in Jerusalem, starting at about 9:30 p.m., after the end of the Jewish Sabbath.
Meanwhile, violence continued in the West Bank.
The Israeli army shot and killed a mentally ill Palestinian near the West Bank city of Nablus on Friday evening, Palestinian witnesses said. He was identified as Taher Abdeh, 23.
The army said it shot at a man after he ignored a warning shot in the air and several verbal commands to not approach an army post. The army said it administered first aid to the man then transferred him to a hospital.
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