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Rice Visits Middle East to Try to Advance Peace Process

  • VOA News

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she will urge Israel to remove more barriers and checkpoints in the West Bank when she meets with Israeli leaders this weekend.

Rice arrived in Jerusalem from London on Saturday and had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

She told reporters on the flight that Israel must take down significant roadblocks -- rather than symbolic barriers -- in order to improve the lives of West Bank Palestinians whose movements are restricted by a system of checkpoints.

On Sunday, she will travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and later meets the Israeli foreign minister and Palestinian negotiators.

Rice is in the region in an attempt to advance efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of this year.

While traveling to Jerusalem, Rice told reporters it is only natural that President Bush plans to visit Israel later this month to mark its 60th anniversary of independence.

But she added that does not mean the president is indifferent to the Palestinians' struggles for their own statehood.

Ahead of Secretary Rice's arrival, Mr. Abbas's government deployed hundreds of police in the West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday in coordination with Israel.

The move is part of a campaign by Mr. Abbas to improve law and order in preparation for statehood.

A published report in the United States, however, says Israel has blocked U.-funded equipment from reaching Palestinian security teams in the West Bank.

"The Washington Post" quotes a Western security official as saying the blocked shipment contained only safety gear, and no lethal items. The newspaper said Israeli authorities received a list of the equipment months ago.

Israel says it has approved most Palestinian requests for security equipment, including weapons. Further details about the fate of the shipment bound for Jenin were not clear.

The Palestinian police teams that arrived in Jenin Saturday received US-funded training in Jordan.

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