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Israeli leaders discuss latest plan for peace

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met Saturday with his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, to discuss Peres' latest peace initiative _ but Sharon was likely to oppose key elements of it.

The plan reportedly calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the areas already under Palestinian control. Peres has suggested that the declaration of a Palestinian state in the near future could lead to a resumption of peace talks.

Sharon's stated positions contrast with reported elements of the plan, namely that the Palestinians be granted more land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as part of negotiations over final borders.

After meeting with Sharon, Peres went to New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, where he was to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell today. Powell said he was also trying to arrange a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to give efforts at peace talks a "jump start."

Earlier Saturday, Israeli tanks temporarily entered Palestinian-controlled territory in the West Bank and demolished the house of a man Israel accuses of being behind a shooting attack early last month.

The Israeli army said Nathir Hamad, 27, organized an attack in which a Palestinian gunman dressed as an Israeli soldier went into a bus station in Afula, northern Israel, and began firing at bystanders. Three people were killed and 14 others wounded in the attack.

On Saturday, Israeli tanks destroyed the home that Hamad shared with his pregnant wife, two daughters and his parents, Palestinian security officials and witnesses said. Twelve Palestinians suspected by Israel of militant activity also were arrested in the village of Araqa, west of Jenin.

Under pressure from the United States, Israel has withdrawn forces from areas of four Palestinian-controlled towns in the West Bank. It still occupies parts of two others, Jenin and Tulkarem. Israeli troops initially entered the six towns in response to the Oct. 17 slaying of an Israeli Cabinet minister by Palestinian militants.

Also Saturday, Israeli troops fired at three Palestinians who were laying an explosive outside the Jewish settlement of Nezer Hazani in the Gaza Strip, hitting two of them, Israeli military officials said. The fate of the two was not immediately clear.

Palestinians living in the area said tanks fired shells and heavy machine guns after the incident. The army did not immediately comment.

As part of the plan Peres is preparing, Jewish settlements in Gaza would be dismantled, Israeli news reports said.