updated 12/11/2003 3:33:42 AM ET 2003-12-11T08:33:42

Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia warned Israel against taking unilateral steps, such as seizing parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying in such cases "the fire will burn, the terror will grow."

His comments were published Thursday, a day after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat dismissed as meaningless the Israeli premier's hints of evacuating some Jewish settlements, and a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers raised hopes for renewed peace talks.

Violence also continued Thursday as Israeli troops battled Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp on the Egyptian border. Hospital officials said three Palestinians were killed and 12 wounded.

Qureia, in an interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv, also lashed out at the current route of a security fence that Israeli is building in parts of the West Bank, saying it will only cause more resentment.

"This will not help, this will not succeed, this will cause a disaster. You cannot build a fence on our land, to cage us like chickens and hope all will be well," he said in excerpts of the interview.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and top members of his government repeatedly have said in recent days that they planned to take unilateral steps if talks on the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan fail.

Sharon and his deputy, Ehud Olmert, have said this would include dismantling some Israeli settlements, but they also have made clear that Israel would never withdraw from all the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the frontier that existed before the 1967 Mideast war.

Separately, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom traveled to Rome for talks with his Palestinian counterpart, Nabil Shaath, the highest-level meeting between the two sides since Qureia took office two months ago.

Efforts also continued toward arranging a first meeting between Qureia and Sharon, though the failure of contacts in Cairo among Palestinian factions last week appeared to delay the summit plans. Qureia and Egyptian officials tried unsuccessfully to secure a declaration from the militants that they would stop attacks against Israelis, clearing the way for a demand that Israel reciprocate.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Shalom told Shaath that Israeli is interested in renewing peace negotiations "without preconditions." At a joint news conference, Shaath called for implementation of the road map, "the only way to achieve the peace, a comprehensive and just peace."

Even before talk of unilateral steps, Israel began building a separation barrier that at points runs near the 1967 lines, but in other areas is to dip deep into the West Bank. Israel has said the barrier is to keep out Palestinian militants who have killed hundreds of Israelis since 2000.

The Palestinian prime minister said dismantling settlements is a positive step. "But if he (Sharon) wants to build a fence and use it to annex Palestinian land, this is unacceptable. The conflict will continue, the fire will burn, the terror will grow, no one will benefit from this," he said.

"We will not accept this, the world will not accept this," he added.

Qureia called for an immediate resumption of peace talks.

Deadly clash

In the Gaza raid, Palestinians said Israeli forces entered the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border before daybreak Thursday and surrounded the house of a Hamas militant.

Palestinians opened fire on the troops and threw hand grenades from the roof of the building, and the Israelis sent attack helicopters in as reinforcements, the Palestinians said.Israeli military officials said the purpose of the mission was to arrest a wanted Palestinian, and fire was exchanged at the scene.

Two of the dead were Palestinian militants and one a bystander, hospital officials said, adding that two of the wounded, including a 12 year-old boy, were in critical condition.

Also Wednesday, Arafat said the Israeli premier's hints of evacuating some Jewish settlements were meaningless.

"It's all a show," Arafat told reporters outside his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where he has been trapped by Israeli troops and threats for two years.

Arafat said Sharon's actions spoke louder than his words. "The truth is the daily construction of settlements, and the daily construction of the fence," he said.

Palestinians say the settlements are illegal encroachments on their land and demand that all of them be removed.

Sharon has refused to specify his plan, but media have reported it includes the removal of all 16 Jewish settlements in Gaza as well as the possible evacuation of some West Bank settlements and the annexation of others.

Nations donating money to the Palestinian Authority, meeting in the Italian capital, pressed Israelis and Palestinians to work harder to ease tensions. The donors were considering reducing or stopping their funding if progress is not made.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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