|Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas (l) and Condoleeza Rice|
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has launched a new peace mission to the Middle East. Israel's upcoming pullout from the Gaza Strip is topping the agenda.
Secretary Rice is urging Israel and the Palestinians to coordinate the planned withdrawal from Gaza, which is due to begin in just two months. Under the plan, Israel will dismantle 21 Gaza settlements and remove more than eight-thousand Jewish settlers from their homes.
Ms. Rice's first stop was the West Bank town of Ramallah, where she discussed the so-called Gaza "disengagement" plan with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. "We must all focus on the disengagement as our best chance to re-energize the 'Roadmap,'" she said.
The internationally-backed Roadmap peace plan is aimed at ending more than four years of bloodshed. "Both parties will have to do their parts, if this, indeed, is to be a peaceful and an orderly withdrawal from the Gaza, and, so, this coordination function is absolutely critical," he said.
Ms. Rice spoke at a joint news conference with Mr. Abbas, who said the Palestinian Authority will prevent attacks by militants during the pullout.
We will ensure a peaceful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and "total coordination with the Israeli side," Mr. Abbas said.
Secretary Rice praised the Palestinian leader as a man of peace, but said his steps toward reforming the security forces have not gone far enough.
"But, of course, much more needs to be done, particularly, to use actively the security forces to combat lawlessness, and to combat terrorism," he said.
Ms. Rice will discuss the Gaza pullout with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday. That will lay the groundwork for a summit between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas on Tuesday, their first meeting since declaring a cease-fire four months ago.