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Israel Refuses to Halt Strikes Against Militants Until Palestinians Crack Down

A late-night meeting between Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs mediated by a new U.S. envoy ran aground, and Israel refused to give a blanket promise to stop all military strikes against militants.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (searchhas been unable to goad violent Palestinian groups to stop homicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis, a key demand of a new U.S.-backed peace plan.

In Thursday night's meeting, mediated by American envoy John Wolf (search), Palestinian security officials told their Israeli counterparts that brokering a cease-fire is impossible as long as Israel's strikes against militants continue, said a Palestinian security source on condition of anonymity.

Beyond a cease-fire, Israel demands the groups be disarmed and shut down. In the meantime there will be no let up in what Israel terms targeted killings of "ticking bombs." Those targets, as loosely defined by Israel, include those strapped with explosives or carrying rifles on their way to attack as well as planners, bombmakers and those giving orders.

A Sharon aide, Raanan Gissin, said Friday that such measures were necessary and would only stop when Palestinians shut down militant groups and arrest terrorists, who have killed hundreds.

"If they would have taken control of the whole area, there'd be no need to take self-defensive measures," Gissin said. "Nothing has been done. They come with excuses, foot-dragging and nothing happens."

Opening a main north-south road in the Gaza Strip (searchto the free flow of Palestinian traffic was another sticking point in the talks between the two teams headed by Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan and an Israeli defense official, Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad.

Even after a possible military withdrawal from Gaza, the Israelis want to keep army checkpoints along the highway, rejecting a request to ease restrictions that have prevented movement and ruined livelihoods, the Palestinian security source said.

Separate talks Thursday between Abbas and 13 Palestinian factions ended without any reports of progress. The talks focused on a cease-fire and possible participation of militias, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, within the political system.

In the absence of a truce, violence continued.

Early Friday, a booby-trapped bicycle left leaning against a concrete road barrier exploded harmlessly at an Israeli military checkpoint in the Gaza Strip, the military said. Suspecting something suspicious, the army had shut down the checkpoint and no one was injured by the blast.

The bicycle was left by someone who sneaked into the area among hundreds of Palestinian laborers who cross the checkpoint to work in a cluster of Jewish settlements in Gaza, the army said.

A short while later soldiers found a second bicycle rigged with explosives and detonated it safely.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was meeting separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Friday to give a push to the "road map" peace plan, which aims to end nearly 33 months of fighting and create a Palestinian state by 2005.

Violence has endangered the plan since it was launched at a festive summit in Jordan on June 4 by U.S. President George W. Bush with Abbas and Sharon.

Israeli soldiers scuffled with Jewish settlers on a West Bank hilltop Thursday as they tore down an unauthorized settlement outpost. Removing such outposts is a key aspect of the road map plan. About 30 were reported injured on both sides, none seriously. Israel Radio said 15 people were arrested.

The year-old outpost of Mitzpeh Yitzhar, which consisted of four filthy tents, a guard post, an outhouse and two makeshift buildings, had about 10 residents.

The confrontation near the West Bank city of Nablus marked the first effort to evacuate a populated outpost. Last week soldiers tore down 10 tiny, empty outposts, most consisting of a trailer or a cargo container perched on West Bank hilltops.

The road map plan requires Israel to dismantle all settlements built since March, 2001. The anti-settlement Peace Now group says there are 62 outposts in that category.

About 220,000 settlers live in veteran settlements authorized by the Israeli government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.