Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, who often enunciates policy for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on Wednesday dismissed reports of a brewing deal under which Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat would be allowed to leave his West Bank Muqata compound for the Gaza Strip.

In return, Arafat would divest himself of overall responsibility for Palestinian Authority security arms.

But Boim, responding to an Israeli media characterization of the plan as "putting Arafat out to retirement," told Israel Radio:

"Arafat needs to go into retirement in the Muqata. That is the place he deserves." Boim said that Arafat is unwilling to accept any reforms, neither in the security nor the economic spheres.

"He is in his place, and it is fitting that he should remain there."

Cairo is said to be awaiting Arafat's reply to Egypt's proposal that the Palestinian leader transfer his far-reaching authority over the security apparatus, which has tens of thousands of men under arms.

Egypt has reportedly asked Arafat to transfer authority either to Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia or to another member of his cabinet, and to appoint a supreme commander for Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip. But Israel Radio said Wednesday that Arafat was firm in rejection of the Egyptian pleas.

Some Israeli political figures have suggested that having Arafat return to Gaza could help stabilize the Strip following a future Israeli pullout.

Arafat has resisted prolonged pressure from Washington to place disparate PA security units under a unified command, a move which could also lessen his influence over specific detachments.

Sharon: Grateful for Egytian help Sharon, struggling to get his Gaza withdrawal proposal approved, said he's grateful for Egyptian help with the plan and hopes the new cooperation can bring the two countries closer.

Sharon said Tuesday that Egypt's role would be crucial. "I think that Egyptian involvement - if it really is carried out seriously, as President Mubarak said in my last conversation with him yesterday - has definite importance," Sharon said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has spoken in favor of Sharon's plan, pledged to help in the transition to Palestinian control and said Egypt would play a role in maintaining security.

He invited Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to Cairo for talks - a boost for Sharon after his Likud Party and cabinet aligned against the pullout, despite U.S. backing.

However, a coordinating trip by Israel's foreign minister to Cairo, initially set for later this week, was put off until Monday, with Israeli officials citing scheduling difficulties.

Sharon said the two countries had mutual interests.

"Calm in the Gaza Strip and seriously dealing with the terrorist organizations is something very important to the Egyptians," Sharon said. "It's really important for us, too, and it could well be that cooperation on this matter could increase areas of cooperation between us and Egypt."

Sharon said he would present a staged Gaza withdrawal plan, to be completed at the end of 2005, to the Cabinet on Sunday. He declined to call a vote at last Sunday's meeting when it became evident that the proposal would not be approved.

In Washington, Sharon aide Dov Weisglass met Tuesday with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to discuss Sharon's determination to carry out the plan. A White House official said the U.S. endorses the Gaza pullout plan Sharon presented there in April.