Israel Intercepts Boat Carrying Instructions for Homicide Bombers

Israel said Thursday it intercepted a boat carrying rocket detonators and instructions for homicide bombers, while the Palestinian prime minister held his first talks with Hamas (search) to try to persuade the militant group to halt attacks.

Israel accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) of involvement in the arms shipment, which it said was headed from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. An explosives expert from the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah (search) was among several people on board.

There were signs, meanwhile, that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would be meeting separately soon with President Bush, who is planning to travel to Europe next week and then may visit the Gulf states of Kuwait and Qatar.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abbas was considering a U.S. proposal that he meet with Bush in Qatar.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Sharon might meet with Bush at the end of next week in Europe. Earlier this week, Sharon canceled a meeting with Bush after a wave of Palestinian homicide attacks in Israel. The original meeting was to have taken place Tuesday at the White House.

The United States is trying to gain support for the so-called "road map" to Mideast peace, a plan that calls for ending violence immediately and setting up a Palestinian state by 2005.

In new violence, six Palestinian children, ranging in age from 9 to 14, were wounded by army fire after throwing stones at Israeli tanks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian doctors said. A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition.

The Israeli military said Thursday it intercepted a suspicious vessel in the Mediterranean, west of its port city of Haifa. Officials said the boat carried 36 CD-ROM disks with instructions on how to assemble bomb belts for homicide bombers. Israel also discovered 25 detonators for rockets and a radio-activation system for remote-control bombs.

Shalom said Palestinians close to Arafat were involved in sending the ship, and that the incident was further proof that he was behind terror operations. "There is no doubt that those involved in the affair are very close to Arafat," he told Israeli television.

Last year, Israel intercepted a ship, the Karine A, carrying 50 tons of banned weapons through the Red Sea, reportedly destined for the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas met Thursday evening with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials said. Abbas has held talks with Hamas leaders in the past, but this was his first meeting with leaders of the group since he took office April 30.

In the first of the road map's three phases, Palestinian security forces would rein in militias that have carried out scores of shootings and bombings in the past 32 months of fighting, while Israel would withdraw from Palestinian towns and freeze construction in Jewish settlements.

The Palestinians have accepted the plan, while Sharon has expressed major reservations, insisting among other things that the Palestinians crack down on militants before Israel makes a move. Sharon has said he would not give a formal response on the road map until he has discussed his reservations with Bush

With Egypt's help, Abbas has been trying to persuade Hamas and Islamic Jihad to accept a so-called "hudna," a one-year suspension of attacks. Previous truce talks in Cairo have failed, and Egypt told Palestinian officials this week it would not renew mediation efforts until Israel has accepted the road map.

Sharon told Abbas in their weekend summit that a suspension of attacks was insufficient. Sharon insisted Palestinians disarm the militias and arrest their leaders, saying a mere suspension of violence would allow the militants -- weakened by Israeli military strikes -- to regroup and plan more attacks.

Abbas told Sharon, according to minutes of the four-hour meeting viewed by The Associated Press, that "the cease-fire will just be the beginning, it will not be the end."

Abbas also said he considered the "weapons chaos" in the Palestinian areas unacceptable, suggesting he would disarm militias at some point.

In Thursday's violence, about 20 school children threw stones at Israeli tanks in the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, witnesses said. Soldiers fired M-16 assault rifles, injuring five youngsters in arms and legs, doctors said. The army said soldiers fired warning shots to disperse stone throwers.

In the West Bank village of Al Yamoun, a 14-year-old boy was critically wounded by army fire in similar circumstances, doctors said.