Talks between William Burns, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Quraya began on Saturday morning in the West Bank town of Ram Allah.

"We genuinely believe that this is a moment of opportunity none of us can afford to miss," Burns said in a statement following the meeting, which he described as "an excellent discussion".

During the talks, Burns reiterated US support for Egypt's offer of help in the wake of the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

"I emphasised once again our strong support for the efforts of Egypt on this issue and we talked in practical terms about how Egypt can support and help the Palestinians rebuild their capacity to maintain law and order," he said.

US consulate spokesman Chuck Hunter earlier said the talks would focus on "ways to move the peace process forward and the Israeli plan to evacuate [Jewish] settlements from the Gaza Strip."

They were also to discuss "the latest Egyptian initiative and Palestinian obligations about unifying their security services," he added.

Egypt is expecting to play a role in maintaining security in the Gaza Strip after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, projected by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which is due for completion by the third quarter of 2005.

The Egyptian authorities have proposed sending 150 to 200 police officers to train a Palestinian force of some 30,000 police to fill the security gap which the Israeli pullout will create in the Palestinian territory against its eastern frontier.