The two sides discussed ways of preventing chaos and maintaining public order, said Fatah negotiator Samir al-Masharawi on Friday. The meeting was held on Wednesday.

"We talked about the possibility of Hamas participation in the Palestinian Authority after the withdrawal, the future of resistance from the Gaza Strip, the fate of the West Bank and a number of political issues at the core of Palestinian concern," he added. 

The talks were their first since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently proposed dismantling some Jewish settlements in Gaza if the US "road map" aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict fails.

Under international law, all Jewish settlements are illegal, a stance not recognised by Israel. 

Land swap?

But Palestinians fear Sharon plans on removing Gaza settlements merely in order to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Under international law, all Jewish settlements are illegal, a stance not recognised by Israel.

Some Palestinian officials, including Masharawi, said messages conveyed through Egyptian officials suggested Israel planned a full pullout from Gaza, where 7500 Jewish settlers and 1.3 million Palestinians live.

Hamas, spearheading the Intifada since September 2000 against Israel’s occupation, have said an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would be a victory for the resistance.

Hamas political leader Sayyid Siyam said the group has also held talks with other Palestinian factions. "We are exchanging ideas and we are trying to put together an agreed upon formula to deal with future challenges," he said. 

A senior Palestinian official said the talks included senior activists based outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

US 'positive'

Masharawi said Hamas did not raise any demands at Wednesday's session, held a day before the arrival in Israel of three US envoys to discuss Sharon's so-called "disengagement" plan.

Israel's barrier cuts off thousands
of Palestinian farmers

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on Friday Washington was "more positive" towards Sharon's disengagement plan after talks.

Assistant US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns, National Security Council number two Stephen Hadley and its Middle East director, Elliott Abrams, arrived in Israel on Thursday to discuss details of the plan.

After meeting Sharon upon their arrival, the three met Shalom and the premier's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, on Friday, before talking to Palestinian officials.

"The prime minister understands that inasmuch as there is no Palestinian compensation (for Israel's evacuation from Gaza settlements), there must be US compensation," Shalom told Israeli public radio.

Sharon "told me there will not be any initiative without a US agreement, which should not limit itself to 'a nod' but must also include a long list of US compensations," he said.

Media reports on Friday said Sharon was seeking Washington's financial help and support for the completion of its separation barrier, slicing off parts of the West Bank in exchange for the dismantlement of 17 of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Israel says the barrier, which towers eight metres at some points, is necessary to keep out Palestinian activists. But Palestinians fear the wall will demarcate the borders of a future state.