Rice visits Sharon on his Negev Ranch
Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Palestinian Authority Saturday, and told Palestinians that Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip is an opportunity to advance the peace process.
“The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is currently the best way to bring forward the peace process,” said Rice, who is on her second Middle Eastern visit in four weeks.
In a Ramalla press conference, Rice praised the Palestinian Authority, which she said was active in taking steps against terrorism in recent weeks.
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She called on the Palestinian Authority to defeat the rejectionist organizations in order to ensure a peaceful disengagement.
Earlier, Rice was in Jerusalem, and also took part in a pastoral visit to Ariel Sharon’s Negev ranch, where she spoke with the prime minister and his advisor, Dov Weisglass.
While praising the disengagement plan, Rice also added that “its important that Gaza does not remain isolated, and to establish links between it and the West Bank.”
The American minister also reiterated U.S. demands for the freezing of settlements, and called on Israel and the Palestinians to coordinate the pullout.
“There are meetings and the start of joint efforts,” she said. “Its important that there be joint understanding, that every side understands the other’s expectations.”
'We're not getting information'
Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen complained to Rice that Israel is not volunteering information on the coming pullout from Gaza.
“Up to now, we have not received information from them, and we need it in preparation for the disengagement,” he said.
Rice’s visit was arranged in alarm following a sharp security deterioration after the terror attack in Netanya, the barrage of Kassam rockets that fell on Sdeort, and Israel’s subsequent decision to return to a policy of assassination of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members.
That deterioration threatened the attempt to coordinate the pullout with the Palestinians.
However relative quiet has prevailed in recent days, and sources in Israel say Abu Mazen is taking real steps to calm the area.