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Rice, on Trip, Tries to Propel Israeli and Palestinian Talks

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Saturday to energize the faltering negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza, but she ran into a tough warning from the Palestinians that Israeli actions were jeopardizing their efforts.


RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 18 - Opening a tour of the Middle East, Ms. Rice came to this West Bank city, the base for Palestinian headquarters, and plunged into meetings with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and others.

At a news conference with Mr. Abbas, Ms. Rice said her objective was to nudge collaboration along in a variety of areas, and she focused on urging the Palestinians to do more on security, as well as to cooperate with Israel in the transfer of assets in Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank.

The Israeli "disengagement" - the withdrawal of 9,000 settlers from Gaza and 800 from four settlements in the West Bank - is to begin in mid-August, and there was impatience in Ms. Rice's voice as she implored the Palestinians and Israelis to act on the points of contention, largely the status of the Israeli-owned houses, greenhouses, public facilities and other infrastructure to be left behind. Also in dispute are the Gaza crossing points.

"One of the reasons I'm here is to encourage the parties to actively now, concretely solve these problems," she said. "There is no more time to simply put problems on the agenda. This now has to be an active process of resolving these."

The secretary's visit came as the Palestinian Parliament approved a compromise election law on Saturday intended to clear the path for the postponed parliamentary votes first scheduled for July.

No new date was announced. But the speaker of Parliament, Rawhi Fattouh, said he expected Mr. Abbas to schedule the vote for January.

American and many European and Arab officials had feared that elections held in July might be swept by Hamas, the militant group that the United States lists as a terrorist organization. At the news conference, Ms. Rice repeated that even if Hamas was to win, the United States would not open contact. But she also emphasized that moderates like Mr. Abbas would probably carry the day.

Mr. Abbas's tone, while welcoming to Ms. Rice, was not particularly hopeful. Referring to Israeli military actions against Palestinians in recent weeks, Mr. Abbas said Israel was violating agreements on mutual restraint. "We have stated to Dr. Rice that actions like these will pose a great danger not only to the process of the quiet but also to the whole peace process," he said.

He rejected suggestions that Hamas should not be involved in the political process, saying elections were "wide open for everybody to participate in and work through it and abide by the laws and regulations of the Palestinian Authority."

Ms. Rice's trip reflected the quickening pace of American diplomatic activity. American officials have expressed mounting concern that Israel and the Palestinians are not doing enough to make the withdrawals peaceful and orderly.

However, the Bush administration has not wanted to mediate, in part because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked it not to pressure his government while his support in Israel and support for the withdrawal seems to be dropping.

Palestinians say that without agreement on crossing points, a seaport and an airport, their people will be trapped in a kind of prison in Gaza, which is fenced in. Mr. Abbas said at the news conference that Israel had done nothing to ease restrictive conditions in the West Bank.

Israel contends that the Palestinians have not cracked down on Hamas and other militant groups.

Ms. Rice noted that the American envoy, Lt. Gen. William E. Ward, and James D. Wolfensohn, a former World Bank president, were ready to help the sides negotiate.

Mr. Wolfensohn has also been trying to work out a significant postwithdrawal economic development program for Gaza and the West Bank. Ms. Rice is to discuss the program, which officials say could approach $3 billion over three years, with European and Arab donors.

In violence on Saturday, the Israeli Army said soldiers shot to death one Palestinian gunman and wounded another after the Palestinians opened fire on a military post in Kfar Darom, a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Also in Gaza, Israeli civilians wounded four Palestinians in incidents along the Mediterranean coast, Israel's Channel 2 television said. The Israelis beat three of the Palestinians and shot a fourth after the Palestinians threw stones in southern Gaza, the television reported.

In a separate incident, a large explosion took place along Gaza's southern border with Egypt. There was no immediate word on the cause, or if there were any casualties.

Greg Myre contributed reporting from Jerusalem for this article.

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-07-16 08:58 AM

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