DAMASCUS - The leader of Hamas on Monday dismissed a U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference planned for later this year, saying it was meant to distract the region as Washington prepared for an attack against Iran. He also warned Palestinian leaders against making concessions to Israel during the meeting.

"Strategically, it (the U.S.) is setting the stage and covering up for the upcoming American war in the region," Khaled Meshal told a press conference at a forum of Palestinian intellectuals in Damascus, where the political chief of the militant Palestinian faction has his headquarters.

"There are preparations for an aggression against Iran, and could include other parties - Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah. Therefore, America is distracting us with a false game and is preparing itself for the real one," he said.

He spoke as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Monday in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Meshal's rival, to prepare the ground for the conference. The meeting is expected to be held later this year in the U.S. to try to restart Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

At a news conference with Rice, Abbas said he was receiving encouraging signs from Israel that pointed to a real possibility for achieving a peace deal.

Meanwhile, Meshal said he feared voluntary concessions by the Palestinians and the Arabs during the upcoming conference without reciprocal moves by the Israelis.

The Hamas leader warned Arab states to stay away from the conference and advised Abbas against making any concessions.

"No one is authorized to continue with negotiations like he wishes while the Palestinians are divided," he said. "No one is authorized to give up an inch of land, exchange it or give up the right of return."