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Israeli Soldiers Stop Palestinians With Explosives at Checkpoint

Israeli soldiers stopped two Palestinians in a car at a checkpoint in the West Bank Saturday and found an explosive belt inside, the army said.

The men were stopped at Tappuah junction, south of Nablus and later taken in for questioning. The belt was detonated, an army spokesman said.

Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prepared for a second meeting on Sunday with former premier Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to bring him into the fragile minority government as foreign minister.

Sharon's shaky coalition with the Labor Party collapsed on Wednesday over a budget dispute and the prime minister was left without a majority in government.

Sharon met with his sometimes ally, sometimes rival, at Sharon's sheep farm in the Negev desert on Friday but no decision was reached and the two planned to resume talks again on Sunday, an official said.

Neither man spoke to reporters waiting outside once the meeting finished, but the sceduling of a second meeting Sunday indicated Netanyahu had not rejected the offer.

The Labor Party's walkout made vacant the foreign affairs portfolio, formerly held by Labor's Shimon Peres.

Peres was a welcome visitor in foreign capitals and a fluent advocate of Israeli policies at a time when they face fierce criticism abroad.

Netanyahu is widely expected to challenge Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party before the next election. The American-educated Netanyahu is skilled in using the media and experienced in diplomacy.

When Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996-99, he brought Sharon in as foreign minister for part of his tenure.

It appeared Sharon would prefer to bring Netanyahu into the government, where he would be subject to Cabinet discipline, than allow him to offer up crticism from the outside.

Sharon has offered Labor leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer's post as defense minister to former army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz.

Mofaz has a reputation as a hard-liner and oversaw the army's crackdown against the Palestinian uprising for most of the past two years. Mofaz also has advocated exiling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Sharon is looking to small, far-right parties in an attempt to maintain a viable coalition, but he said he would not change his positions to accommodate them.

"I am on the way to forming a government with a different make-up," he told the Maariv newspaper. "Policy lines will remain exactly the same policy lines and its goals won't change: war on terror, renewing political negotiations and reaching an agreement."

Sharon's coalition now has only 55 seats in the 120-seat parliament.