Israeli soldiers have killed two Hamas militants in Gaza, just hours before Israeli and Palestinian officials are to discuss implementing the first phase of an internationally backed peace plan. The meeting is an effort to reach an arrangement on the Israeli transfer of security responsibility to the Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Israel Radio said the meeting was supposed to have taken place Tuesday, but was delayed 24 hours at Israel's request, so that it could formulate responses to Palestinian demands.

The report said that Major General Amos Gilad, coordinator of Israeli government activities in the territories, and Palestinian Authority security chief Mohammed Dahlan will participate in the meeting.

Meanwhile, Israeli media are reporting that the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas may be very close to concluding a deal with militants for a ceasefire in their attacks on Israelis. According to reports the ceasefire would last for three months and would cover Israel proper, as well as Palestinian areas.

Israel has repeatedly said it does not want a temporary ceasefire and demands the disarmament of terrorist organizations.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a parliamentary committee that even if there is a ceasefire, Israel will continue striking at ticking bombs. He said that if Israel identifies an intention to commit a terror attack they will notify the Palestinians and expect them to take action to stop it. If they do not, he said, Israel will act on its own.

Mr. Sharon also said Israel would not negotiate as long as terror attacks continue.

As he put it, if the Palestinians take security responsibility for an area, they will be responsible for maintaining the ceasefire and will have to act to eliminate terror.