Earlier on Monday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Israeli leaders told him that Israel would "cooperate and coordinate" with the Palestinians over the presidential election they plan to hold in January.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, at a news conference with Powell, said Israel would do "everything in its power to ensure the smooth running" of the 9 January ballot to choose a successor to the late Yasir Arafat.

"I am pleased at what I heard from the prime minister and the foreign minister about Israel's willingness to cooperate and coordinate with the Palestinian Authority as they prepare for these elections and make it possible for Palestinians to participate, to include those in East Jerusalem," Powell said.

Seeking middle ground

Palestinian leaders have called on Israel to pull its troops back from West Bank cities and allow Arab residents of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem to take part in the polls.

Powell, who was to meet Palestinian leaders in the West Bank town of Jericho later in the day, said he did not get into
specifics in his talks in Jerusalem on what steps Israel might take before the election.

Shalom said Israel was trying to find a middle ground whereby Palestinians in East Jerusalem could vote without their participation appearing to challenge Israel's claim of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian sovereign state.