"I have another week ahead of me, and according to the law I can obtain an extension of another week," Quraya said on Sunday after the talks in the Gaza Strip with representatives from the National and Islamic Forces High Committee, which includes Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movements.

Quraya, who also called for Palestinians to demonstrate a united front, said there was already a "general agreement" on the cabinet line-up he intended to present.

But he said he was still trying to forge a "universal ceasefire" between Palestinians and Israel, who had been locked in bitter fighting since the Palestinian uprising against occupation erupted nearly three years ago.

He said the first step towards the ceasefire was getting the factions to agree to the idea, without being discouraged by the negative signals thrown up by Israel to previous ceasefire suggestions.

Tough role

Quraya was nominated by Arafat two weeks ago to succeed Mahmud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister.

"We listened to his point of view and we support all the proposals"

Ahmad Heles,
Secretary of the Fatah High Committee in Gaza

He has been seeking to cement support from across the spectrum before unveiling his cabinet, in an attempt to avoid the fate of Abbas who quit after a power struggle with Arafat.

A statement from Hamas official Ismail Haniya said the group would engage in "dialogue with Abu Ala (Quraya)", but a correspondent from French news agency AFP said that no representatives from the Islamic group were seen entering the meeting.

Their leaders had gone underground after Israel launched an all-out war against the group, mounting a series of air strikes in Gaza, in the wake of a massive bombing in Jerusalem more than a month ago.

Islamic Jihad officials attended the meeting. Its leader in Gaza, Muhammad al-Hindi, confirmed that his group "will not participate" in the government but welcomed the opportunity to hold talks with Quraya.

Quraya also earlier met with local members of Fatah and was also expected to hold talks with local members of the Palestinian parliament in the evening.

Ahmad Heles, secretary of the Fatah High Committee in Gaza, said that the movement would give Quraya its full support.

"We listened to his point of view and we support all the proposals," he said.

Incursions

In further violence on the ground, the Israeli army imposed a curfew in Jenin after tanks, jeeps and armoured vehicles re-entered the centre of the West Bank town, Palestinian and Israeli security sources said.

The sound of gunfire could be heard, but there were no reports of any casualties. Soldiers took over a house belonging to the local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and blew up both the building and a stolen car after evacuating the people within, the sources said.

Apartheid wall

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed on Sunday not to compromise on Israel's security, as his top aide headed to Washington in a bid to seal approval for a controversial West Bank apartheid wall.

"When it comes to security, the security of the Israeli citizens and the state of Israel, Israel will not make any compromises whatsoever, not now and not in the future"

Ariel Sharon,
Israeli prime minister
 

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was also travelling to New York to attend the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, two days after Israel was almost universally condemned over its threats to remove Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

Israel has insisted it regards the vote as irrelevant. A total of 133 countries voted for the non-binding resolution on Friday while four voted against, including the United States.

But while Washington has been prepared to stand up for its chief Middle Eastern ally at the United Nations, it has also been trying to use its influence to rein in Israeli plans for the wall.

Sharon's chief of staff Dov Weisglass and defence ministry director General Amos Yaron were due in Washington on Sunday where they would hold talks with US President George Bush's national security advisor Condoleezza Rice.

The two officials are to defend the wall, which is ostensibly aimed at preventing infiltrations by Palestinian fighters into Israel, but cuts deep into the West Bank and has prompted Palestinian accusations it is an attempt to pre-determine the border of their future state.

The White House has repeatedly voiced its displeasure at the wall, even threatening its ally with economic sanctions.

Sharon defiant

The Israeli government itself is divided over the route of the apartheid wall, which hardliners want to include several Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank.

The cabinet is due to make a final decision on the issue in a week, after the two envoys' return on Tuesday and once the US position has been clarified.

Sharon, who hosted a party on Sunday at his Jerusalem office for former premier Shimon Peres' 80th birthday, said he would make no compromise on security issues.

"When it comes to security, the security of the Israeli citizens and the state of Israel, Israel will not make any compromises whatsoever, not now and not in the future," said Sharon without mentioning the apartheid wall.