JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel said yesterday that wide-ranging peace talks aimed at ending the conflict with the Palestinians will not be renewed until their leaders take strong action to prevent terrorist attacks on Israel.
Sharon's comments seemed aimed at dampening expectations ahead of a Mideast summit in Egypt on Tuesday that Palestinians hope will revive the peace process, but Israelis want to remain focused on security issues.
The summit was expected to produce a joint cease-fire declaration formally ending more than four years of bloodshed. Such a declaration is one of the first requirements of the internationally backed ''road map" peace plan, which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state this year but has been stalled because of ongoing violence.
As part of a package of gestures before the summit, Israel yesterday approved the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners and agreed to withdraw troops from Jericho, the first of five West Bank towns Israel is expected to leave. The decision was announced after Palestinian security forces fanned throughout the Gaza Strip last week to prevent militant attacks on Israeli targets.
In a telephone conversation yesterday with Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of Norway, Sharon said Israel was working to bolster new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, but the Palestinians have not reciprocated, taking no substantive steps to fight terrorism apart from the Gaza troop deployment, according to a statement from Sharon's office.
Israeli officials have protested that Palestinian security forces have not arrested militants or tried to disrupt their weapons-smuggling and weapons-manufacturing networks.
Yesterday, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians who tried to sneak into Israel by climbing the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli army. It was unclear why they were crossing into Israeli territory.
Palestinian officials want the summit next week to restart the road map, but Sharon told Bondevik that new peace talks would be linked to tougher Palestinian action against militants.
''The prime minister stressed that getting into the road map will happen only after the Palestinians halt terrorist activity, dismantle the [terrorism] infrastructures and carry out governmental reforms," the statement said.
Israeli officials say they view the summit as a limited meeting focusing on security issues and efforts to stop violence. Sharon wants to carry out his plan to withdraw from Gaza this summer before starting wide-ranging peace talks, the officials said.
The Palestinians rejected Israel's gestures as insufficient, protesting that the planned prisoner release would free only people serving relatively short terms, not the longtime prisoners the Palestinians were seeking.
''It is not what we want. It is not what our people want," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said yesterday.
The Palestinian leadership views the release of the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel as crucial to strengthening Abbas' domestic support as he proceeds with peace efforts.
Despite the mutual criticism, international diplomats, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, praised both sides.
Speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Rice said she would attend a March conference in London focused on reforming the Palestinian Authority and its security forces.