Israeli, Palestinian PMs to Meet; Five Arabs Killed

The Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers have rescheduled a much-delayed first summit meeting for next week and will take up issues ranging from Israel's planned pullout from Gaza to attempts to restart the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, both sides said Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, Israeli undercover units killed five Palestinians — at least four of them armed militants — in a raid in the West Bank town of Jenin (search), Palestinians said.

The militants were members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, Palestinians said. The identity of the fifth person wasn't immediately known.

The Israeli army said it had entered the town to arrest a number of Palestinian militants and shot four armed figures who had taken aim at the soldiers. The army did not immediately know the conditions of the four and could not confirm whether they had been the targets of the operation.

The militants were killed in a brief gunfight, witnesses said. Their car was riddled with bullets, and the troops immediately left the area after the shootout, they said.

The army frequently operates in Jenin, a center of Palestinian militant activity.

The long-delayed summit was scheduled for Tuesday, a senior Palestinian official said, but both sides emphasized that plans remained tentative.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, an adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search), said the meeting would depend on the outcome of a preparatory session Sunday between the leaders' aides.

"We are discussing various issues and if we agree on these issues then there will be no obstacles to a meeting," Abu Libdeh said.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said "there are discussions about possibly holding a meeting on this date, but it cannot be confirmed."

Israeli media reported the main topic at the summit would be Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip, a proposal that could include the removal of most Jewish settlements in the coastal area.

Qureia and Sharon have delayed meeting for months. Qureia has said he wanted a summit to yield results, such as easing restrictions on Palestinians. It was not immediately clear whether Sharon had given new assurances in that regard.

Meanwhile, a key Israel adviser on Israel's West Bank separation barrier, told the Haaretz daily that the government had decided against building a section that would encircle Palestinians, another sign Israel is backing down on its original plans for the project.

Dany Tirza, Sharon's top adviser on the barrier, told Haaretz the government had decided against putting up a fence in the Jordan Valley on the eastern section of the West Bank "because of the diplomatic damage" it would cause.

Israel says it needs the barrier of razor wire, concrete walls and trenches to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers. But the structure being built on the western section of the West Bank cuts deeply into the territory in some areas, isolating Palestinian towns and villages.

Faced with appeals to Israel's Supreme Court — and a nonbinding decision to be handed down in the coming months by the world court — Israel has already made several changes to the route, and officials have acknowledged others are planned.

Tirza said there would be a 1.43-mile "hole" in the barrier being built around Jerusalem, so as not to leave the 32,000 residents who live in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim on the West Bank side of the barrier.

The report came amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings on Sharon's withdrawal proposal.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Wednesday to discuss the plan. Egypt fears a power vacuum in Gaza following an Israeli withdrawal could lead to chaos and anarchy in the coastal strip on its border.

Suleiman secretly met Sharon earlier in the week, ahead of a planned meeting Thursday between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The meeting in Cairo will be the highest-level Israeli-Egyptian meeting since Sharon took office three years ago.

Three U.S. envoys were to arrive in Jerusalem Thursday for another round of talks on Sharon's "disengagement plan." Israeli officials traveled to Washington last week to discuss the proposal with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

After those meetings, Israeli officials said the sides needed to hold further discussions before a possible meeting between Sharon and President Bush.

Violence in the poverty-ridden Gaza Strip has increased in recent weeks as Israel and Palestinian militant groups fight to make any withdrawal look like a victory for their side.

On Wednesday, Israeli troops backed by tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers raided the Rafah refugee camp along the Egypt-Gaza border. Forces surrounded two houses, while clashes with gunmen erupted.

The army said it had found an entrance for a weapons-smuggling tunnel in one of the houses.