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Rice Meets with Palestinian Negotiators Before Talks with Israeli Officials


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Palestinian negotiators Wednesday, to press them to restart peace talks with Israel.

Further details of those discussions have not been released.

Before Rice departs for Brussels later Wednesday, she is scheduled to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Rice is expected to urge the Israeli officials to avoid harming civilians during military operations in Gaza.

The meetings come hours after Israeli forces briefly entered the Gaza Strip and clashed with militants. Israel's Army says a senior Islamic Jihad commander was killed. Palestinian medical sources say an infant was also killed, and at least 10 Palestinians were wounded.

On Tuesday, Rice met separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an effort to restart peace talks and end the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip.

Rice met late Tuesday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And, earlier Tuesday, she held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Rice urged Mr. Abbas to immediately return to peace talks with Israel.

The Palestinian president said only a long-term cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza will help establish peace this year.

Mr. Abbas suspended talks with Israel on Sunday to protest a five-day offensive in Gaza that killed more than 120 Palestinian militants and civilians.

Israeli troops withdrew from northern Gaza Monday.

Rice has called on Hamas to stop rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. She also has urged Israel to try harder not to harm Palestinians in its military response.

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

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