Sharon, who met on Tuesday a number of US Jewish congressmen, Vice President Dick Cheney and US newspaper editors in Washington, reiterated his country's intention to maintain areas that he described as being of major strategic importance.

"I have known him [Abbas] for many years. There is no doubt he represents a departure from Yassir Arafat's strategy of terror," Sharon said, according to a senior Israeli official.

"But he must take additional steps to disarm terror organisations, stop incitement, or we can't move forward from the pre-road map stage," Sharon added.

Abbas, who is to meet Bush next month, has preferred a strategy of negotiations with militant groups, rather than confrontation.

Settlements

In Texas on Monday, Bush told Sharon that further building on the remaining settlements would be in violation of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, which both the Israelis and the Palestinians have formally accepted but which has been long dormant, with both sides failing to carry out initial obligations.
 
"I've been very clear. Israel has an obligation under the road map. That's no expansion of settlements," Bush said.
 
But later, Sharon said that while US opposition to the settlements dated back to when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, Israel nevertheless continued to build communities to keep a hold on the land.

"It was not to antagonize the US but to keep areas that seem strategic to Israel," Sharon told reporters.

Sharon said Israel would keep large settlement blocs such as Maaleh Adumim, the West Bank's largest settlement.

"The blocs will be part of Israel, with everything that that entails," Sharon said, indicating the construction that will link Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem will continue.

Israel announced last month plans to add 3650 homes to Maaleh Adumim.

The United States objects to the plan, which would cut off Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.