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US Welcomes Palestinian Security Moves; Sending Envoy to Region

The United States Friday welcomed steps ordered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to curb attacks against Israel from the Gaza strip. A senior U.S. envoy will visit to the region next week.

Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice has promised a concerted personal role in efforts to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians after she assumes takes office, expected by late next week.

In the meantime, the Bush administration is sending the State Department's top Middle East envoy, William Burns, to the region to try to encourage what officials here say are positive moves by the new Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Abbas, who himself assumed office only last Saturday, has deployed thousands of Palestinian police into northern Gaza, where they have begun patrolling border areas used by militants to launch rockets into Israel.

A similar deployment in southern Gaza is planned within the next few days.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the action, which has been coupled with increasing security contacts between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. "We are encouraged by the steps that President Abbas has taken to gain control of the security situation in Gaza. We have always stressed how important it is for the Palestinians to organize themselves to end violence, and we welcome steps that are being taken in that direction. I would say we're also pleased with the coordination that's gone on between Israeli and Palestinian officials," he said.

Spokesman Boucher reiterated the U.S. willingness to help the Palestinian Authority rebuild its security forces, though he said it will be concrete action by the Palestinian leadership that will sent a clear message that terror will not be tolerated.

The spokesman said Mr. Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, will depart on his mission early next week and visit Egypt in addition to Israel and the Palestinian areas.

Egypt and Israel have recently stepped up contacts on security measures in advance of the anticipated Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and Egypt has been seeking to broker peace between the Palestinian Authority and militant factions.