Powell will visit the region on Friday
to salvage the US-backed 'road map'

Powell, speaking in Bangladesh, confirmed he would be visiting Israel and the Plestinian territories on Friday.

"The reports I have from my staff in the past few hours suggest that some progress has been made with respect to security arrangements as well as continuing discussions with Hamas and other organisations with Prime Minister Abbas," he said.

The Secretary of State gave no further details.

He also condemned a blast in northern Israel early on Thursday. A Palestinian detonated explosives in a grocery store in northern Israel on Thursday, killing himself and the Israeli shop owner.

The Islamic Jihad's armed wing al-Quds Brigades group claimed responsibility for the explosion.

Coinciding with Powell's statements, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) rejected a call from Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for a ceasefire with Israel.

Senior PFLP official Jamal Majdalawi told journalists after talks between his group and Abbas in occupied Gaza City they would continue armed resistance.

Abbas is expected to hold fresh talks later on Thursday with various resistance factions ahead of Powell's visit.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said Powell would meet Abbas in the West Bank town of Jericho on Friday after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom.

Settlement evacuated

Jewish settlers have tried to stop
the dismantling of outposts

Meanwhile, dozens of Jewish settlers scuffled with Israeli soldiers as they began to evacuate a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, the first inhabited settlement to be dismantled as part of the "road map".

Israeli army radio said dozens of settlers tried to block troops from nearing Mitzpeh Yitzhar near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Under the US-backed blueprint, Israel is expected to dismantle settlements it deems are rogue, which include those erected after 2001. Under international law, all Jewish settlements are illegal.

Israel's army has dismantled some uninhabited settlements following the Aqaba summit. But Jewish settlers have re-built many of them.