Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) met yesterday evening in Sharon's office in Jerusalem. Sharon is due to leave for the United States today and to meet President George Bush on Tuesday.

The Palestinians intended to present Sharon with five demands and suggested a series of confidence-building measures (CBM) to enable jump-starting the political process.

The demands included releasing prisoners, especially administrative detainees; lifting the siege on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in the Muqata; stopping the targeted assassinations and raids in the Gaza Strip; freezing the settlements and halting the construction of the separation fence, which unilaterally demarcates the Palestinian state's permanent borders according to the Palestinians.

A Palestinian source said Abbas asked for clarifications regarding Israel's real position about the road map, following recent Israeli statements rejecting it. The source said the Palestinians would even agree to carry out the road map's first security steps in exchange for an Israeli agreement to accept the road map.

Sharon suggested Israeli moves which would make it easier for Abbas' cabinet to act against terrorism in the territories. Before the meeting, government sources said, "Sharon was being flexible" by not conditioning the Israeli steps on the Palestinian cabinet's actions.

The Israelis have very low expectations from the Palestinian cabinet and assume it has trouble functioning, in view of the power still wielded by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Sharon held a debate on Friday with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Deputy Prime Minister Yosef Lapid, in anticipation of the meeting with Abu Mazen.

The defense minister presented the plan to hand the northern Gaza Strip to the Palestinian government, where it can act against terrorism, as a first step to calm the conflict.

They also spoke of the CBMs presented last week to American Secretary of State Colin Powell, including the resumption of the security cooperation with the Palestinians, lifting some of the restrictions on transferring goods between Israel and the PA, expanding the number of Palestinian workers in Israel and giving PA senior officials working on the reforms freedom of movement.

A security source said yesterday that Mofaz will not be meeting the Palestinian minister in charge of security, Mohammed Dahlan, in the near future.