00:50 , 11.30.06


Photo: Reuters American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Photo: Reuters
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PM to tell Rice Israel will exercise restraint in Gaza

US secretary of state to hold round of talks with PM, Livni and Abbas Thursday. Israel to stress before Rice that it intends to maintain restraint in Gaza despite continuation of rocket fire; Abbas to discuss possibility of Israeli-Palestinian summit
Ronny Sofer

The American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to hold a round of meetings Thursday in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority, in a bid to strengthen the diplomatic process initiated by Israel this week.


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In her meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Rice expected to be presented with plans and updates for a continuation of the dialogue that would strengthen the ceasefire and allow for renewed contacts with the Palestinian unity government, set to be established in the near future.


The PM and foreign minister would present to the US official the gestures made by Israel that have contributed to the warming in relations, and were expected to clarify to Rice that Israel intended to exercise restraint in Gaza, despite the continuation of Qassam fire in recent days.


PM Olmert hoped that Rice's visits to Jericho and Jerusalem would encourage Abbas to step up his efforts in establishing a new Palestinian government, which he hoped would accept the three terms of the Quartet and the principles of the road map.


US not planning to take part in talks  

Despite Rice's visit, the United States did not plan to play an active role in the mediation efforts, and expected both sides to hold direct negotiations.


"The Israeli-Palestinian issue needs to mature before further intervention of Washington is required," a Jerusalem official said Wednesday.


"In the meantime, the Egyptians will continue to mediate, in order to complete the four-stages outline: A ceasefire, the formation of a unity government that will be recognized by Israel and the international community, the release of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners, and only then a revival of the dialogue, in which the Americans will take part," he explained.


In the meeting in Jericho, Abbas was expected to voice the Palestinians' demand to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank territories as of Sunday. Abbas would also ask that the US make sure that the border crossings operate on a regular basis, in order to alleviate the Palestinian population's distress.


Abbas would also inquire whether the Americans and the international community would be willing to lift the economic blockade that has been imposed on the PA, if a unity government with Hamas was formed.


Rice and Abbas were also expected to discuss the possibility of holding an Israeli-Palestinian summit – perhaps even in the coming days, which would be sponsored by the US.


Abbas' associates said that following his meeting with Rice, the president may present an ultimatum to Hamas on the issue of the unity government.


Ali Waked contributed to the report