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A Palestinian stabbed a 72-year-old Jew shopping in Hebron on Wednesday just as Israeli opponents of government peace policies called parliament into session to try to keep troops from leaving the West Bank city.

Rabbi Nissim Gudai, from adjacent Kiryat Arba settlement, was in the Arab vegetable market in Hebron when he was stabbed in the back and seriously wounded. The assailant fled.Israeli security forces closed the area and arrested several Palestinians. Angry settlers turned over vegetable carts in protest.

The attack occurred just as Israel's parliament met in a special session in Jerusalem called by right-wing political parties hoping to prevent the planned handover of Hebron to Palestinian self-rule at least until after May 29 elections.

Outside parliament, several hundred settlers held a protest demanding Israel stay in Hebron.

Opinion polls show Prime Minister Shimon Peres leading right-wing Likud challenger Benjamin Netanyahu by five points, 49 percent to 44 percent. But the polls show that with another seven percent uncommitted, the race could still go either way.

Hebron, traditional burial site of the biblical patriarch Abraham, is holy to both Jews and Moslems and is the only Arab West Bank city with Jewish residents - 400 Israelis living amid about 100,000 Palestinians.

Hebron is also the last of seven West Bank towns occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war still due to be handed over to the Palestinians under peace deals. Israeli troops will remain only in areas where the settlers live.

Peres has promised to press ahead with the handover, delayed by Islamic suicide bombings that killed 59 people in Israel in February and March. But Peres has not said when the transfer will take place.

In Paris on Wednesday, Peres said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would meet to discuss how to deal with the matter.