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Rice Meets Sharon, Urges Coordination on Gaza Pullout

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his ranch in southern Israel Friday for talks on Israel's upcoming disengagement from Gaza. Ms. Rice has been urging greater coordination between Israel and the Palestinians on the withdrawal.

Ms. Rice flew by helicopter to Mr. Sharon's ranch in the Negev for their closed door meeting.

The Secretary's message has been for both sides to work together to ensure the mid-August deadline for the start of the Gaza pullout remains on track.

"I look forward to talking with both the Israelis and Palestinians about the need for tight coordination and for rapid resolution of a number of key issues that are before the parties in advance of the disengagement," she said. "I also look forward to talking about the need to resist any efforts of terrorists to destroy this moment of hope."

Ms. Rice was speaking in Jerusalem as she met Thursday evening with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The Secretary came here from Darfur, Sudan, cutting short her trip to Africa for three days of talks in the Middle East. The trip was hastily arranged last week after a deadly suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, followed by a surge in violence - with clashes in Gaza, Israeli missile strikes against Palestinian militants and even fighting between militants and Palestinian security forces.

At the same time thousands of Israeli opponents of the disengagement plan took their protests to southern Israel where they were stopped by police before they could march into the Jewish settlement block in southern Gaza.

Ms. Rice meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and senior officials in Ramallah on Saturday.