JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered his strongest endorsement of a U.S.-sponsored framework for peace that ends with the creation of a Palestinian state, promising to push for its approval if re-elected.

However, the hardline Israeli leader rejected a key element of the plan: a detailed timetable.

In a speech to a national security conference Wednesday night, Sharon also reiterated his insistence that Yasser Arafat has to be removed as the Palestinian leader and that violence against Israeli targets has to end before progress can be made.

“Israel can no longer be expected to make political concessions until there is proven calm and Palestinian governmental reforms,” Sharon said.

Fears of new violence rose yesterday after Sharon said several members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network have infiltrated the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and are working with the Hezbollah guerrilla group.

“We know they are in the region,” he told journalists in Tel Aviv. “There’s no doubt that Israel is a target for an attack.”

Police went on high alert for several hours in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv area – setting up makeshift roadblocks to check cars – because of “terrorist warnings,” Israel police spokesman Gil Klieman said.

A young Palestinian was arrested on “suspicion of attempting to carry out terrorist activity,” Klieman said. He declined to comment further, citing a Jerusalem district court gag order, but said the high alert was relaxed by midday.

At his news conference, Sharon also welcomed recent statements by senior Palestinian officials that taking up arms against Israel had been a mistake and must stop immediately.

“We see today cracks in Palestinian society,” he said. “There are people who understand that Arafat brought upon them a terrible catastrophe. Will it develop in a certain direction? I hope so.”

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