The scheduled cease-fire talks between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Hamas leaders were unexpectedly canceled yesterday, hours after an Egyptian delegation that was in Gaza on the same mission left without achieving any concrete progress.

Meanwhile, although the Israel Defense Forces is supposed to withdraw from northern Gaza this week, the order has yet to be given. Palestinian sources said that during yesterday's Israeli-Palestinian security talks, Israel said it is conditioning the withdrawal on the success of the internal Palestinian cease-fire talks.

Palestinian sources said the Abbas-Hamas meeting was canceled because the prime minister wants to reach an understanding on a cease-fire with his own Fatah faction before trying to do the same with Hamas leaders. He met with Fatah leaders in Gaza for two hours last night for this purpose, but did not achieve any concrete results.

Nor were any results achieved at the Israeli-Palestinian security talks. Both Israelis and Palestinians said that the low-level meeting blew up because the Israelis refused to talk with Rashid Abu Shabak, the head of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza, whom Israel accuses of direct involvement in terrorism, while the Palestinians refused to exclude him from the meeting. The higher-level meeting scheduled to take place yesterday between Major General Amos Gilad and Palestinian Interior Minister Mohammed Dahlan was canceled for the second time in 48 hours due to the lack of progress in the internal Palestinian cease-fire talks.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice held private talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass. In Jerusalem, meanwhile, John Wolf, who heads the American team supervising implementation of the U.S.-backed road map for Israeli-Palestinian talks, began meeting with Israeli officials.

The Washington talks focused on how to keep the road map alive and how to improve U.S.-Israeli coordination to prevent "surprises" such as Israel's assassination attempt on senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi last week. In Israel, Wolf met with Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and was given a tour of the "seam line" between Israel and the territories by IDF officers. Wolf will meet with Palestinian officials today.

After meeting with Weisglass, Powell left on a trip that will take him to Jordan for Sunday's road map meeting with the Quartet, which includes the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia. A senior U.S. official said that Powell could stop over in Israel Friday, but analysts said he does not want to commit himself to the visit, lest that lead Israelis and Palestinians to delay any decisions until his arrival.

At Abbas' meeting with Fatah leaders, the latter demanded that the prime minister produce "concrete guarantees" that Israel will end assassinations of wanted men and military incursions into Palestinian territory as part of any cease-fire agreement. Israel has refused to make such a promise publicly, but Abbas said that the U.S. and Egypt have both promised to ensure that it will happen. Fatah leaders also demanded that Israel lift its internal closures on the territories and its siege of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Hamas leaders issued a statement after their meeting with the Egyptians in which they said the movement was "studying the Egyptian proposal presented to it seriously and with interest. The parties agreed at the end of the meeting to continue the dialogue on achieving a cease-fire."

But Khaled Mashal, the head of Hamas's political bureau, issued a much less conciliatory statement, charging that Sharon is trying to break Hamas by political means after having failed to do so through military means.

Unofficially, Hamas sources said the Egyptians did not demand an explicit cease-fire declaration or an end to all "military operations," but merely that Hamas "end some forms of resistance." This means an end to attacks inside Israel, but not to attacks against soldiers or settlers in the territories, the sources said. Hamas is due to respond to the Egyptian proposal within 48 hours.

Israel believes that Hamas would be willing to stop attacks within Israel, but not in the territories. However, such a partial cease-fire would be unacceptable to Jerusalem. Even a full cease-fire would be acceptable to Israel only as a temporary measure: Jerusalem continues to insist that the PA begin collecting terrorists' weapons within weeks of a cease-fire declaration.