He said the matter would not be discussed until the final status of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis was resolved.

 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to respect the US-backed "road map".

 

However, Sharon, speaking on Monday in the Knesset, said it was not in Israel's interest to discuss the settlements, illegal under international law.

 

The Israeli Peace Now group said the number of rogue Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank has doubled since the Aqaba summit in Jordan last month, in which Abbas and Sharon threw their support behind a US-backed “road map” aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Sharon has been the architect of Israel’s settlement policy for decades and his 1998 call to “seize the hills” has remained a rallying cry for radical settlers.

Abbas peace calls

Meanwhile, Abbas said Israel would respect the issue of settlement dismantlement if it wanted peace.

Abbas (L) meets Egypt's President
Hosni Mubarak

Abbas was speaking in Cairo following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in preparation for his first visit to the White House on Friday.

The US-backed "road map" aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict calls, among other issues, for Israel to scrap "rogue settlements"-those built without the permission of the Israeli government.

Abbas started an intense round of international diplomacy on Monday which will end in his first trip to the White House later this week.

 

"An atmosphere of security and stability prevails in our territories," said Abbas.

 

Prisoners

 

On the issue of Palestinian prisoners, Abbas called for the release of all detainees being held in Israeli prisons.

 

Israel holds at least 6,000 Palestinian political detainees. But Sharon’s government has so far approved the release of just 350 detainees. None are members of the Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

 

Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Minister Hisham Abd al-Razeq said on Monday he would reject any Israeli attempt to present a list of detainees to be released from its prisons as a fait accompli.