Rice Urges Joint Effort In Gaza

U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waves as she arrives at the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in the West Bank town of Ramallah Saturday June 18, 2005. Rice is in a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, renewing U.S. involvement in the Mideast peace process on Saturday, said joint planning by Palestinian and Israeli leaders is crucial to the successful withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Rice held talks at the Palestinian Authority's headquarters with President Mahmoud Abbas and members of the Cabinet, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Kidwa.

She was meeting Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, part of a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe.

Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan has led to fears that Israeli settlers could put up a fight or that militants opposed to peace might use violence to disrupt their departure. Also, it is not clear that Palestinians can ensure security and sustain a working government to fill the vacuum Israel leaves behind after 38 years.

"There needs to be clarity about what to expect," Rice told reporters Friday, en route to the region. "That, I think, will lead to less confusion on what is likely to be, under the best of circumstances, a pretty complicated day."

Rice said she would remind Abbas that Palestinians "play a critical role in providing a secure environment in which the Gaza disengagement can take place."

She gave a cautious endorsement to Palestinian progress to organize and train an effective security force, but said "more could be done." In addition, Rice said the cease-fire Abbas has negotiated with Hamas must hold.

In southern Gaza on Saturday, Palestinian militants attacked a settlement, leading to a gun fight that killed one of the attackers and wounded a second, the army said. No soldiers or residents were injured.

Rice took notice that the Palestinian parliament passed a law Saturday removing a major hurdle to legislative elections that originally were scheduled for next month but were postponed indefinitely.