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Rice to Travel to Bethlehem

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet with civic leaders this week in Bethlehem.

Rice told reporters Monday that the U.S. understands the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not simply political, but also affects the daily lives of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.

The secretary of state said President Bush has made resolving that conflict "one of the highest priorities of his administration."

Also Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised the issue of Israeli authority in east Jerusalem. In a speech, remembering a prominent right-wing parliamentarian who was killed by Palestinian militants, Mr. Olmert asked if it was necessary for Israel to control Arab neighborhoods in the city.

His comments come a day after he met with Rice in Israel, and on the same day Rice held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice says Israelis and Palestinians are making their most serious effort in years to end the conflict.

She made the comment Monday in Ramallah at a joint news conference with President Abbas.

Mr. Abbas says he believes Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will be able to reach agreement on a joint declaration of principles before a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in November. But Prime Minister Olmert said an agreement on a joint document is not a prerequisite for the conference.

Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have been working on a joint document ahead of the peace summit, in Annapolis, Maryland to lay the groundwork for an eventual Palestinian state.

Rice is in the Middle East to bridge differences between Israeli and Palestinian politicians ahead of the conference.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.