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Rice Praises Palestinian Efforts to Crack Down on Militants


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has praised Palestinian efforts to crack down on militants, but said more needs to be done to ensure an orderly and successful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. She also had some strong words for Israel about what needs to happen after the pullout to ensure Gaza's survival.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Ramallah, Secretary Rice praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his government for recent efforts to crack down on militants.

"These efforts demonstrate the Palestinian leadership's commitment to ensuring security and tracking down those who perpetrate violent attacks that only delay the achievement of a Palestinian state," she said.

Ms. Rice said that, while important steps have been taken more needs to be done to rein in the militants, and make sure they will not use Gaza as a base for attacks once the Israelis withdraw.

Israel is to begin pulling out of Gaza and small portions of the northern West Bank in less than a month, and Ms. Rice has been telling both sides that coordination will be key to the withdrawal's success.

The secretary also had some tough words for Israel on what needs to happen after the withdrawal to ensure the economic viability and revival of the Palestinian areas.

"That means, when the Israelis withdraw from Gaza, it cannot be sealed or isolated as an area with the Palestinian people closed in after that withdrawal," she said. " We are committed to connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank, and we are committed to openness and freedom of movement for the Palestinian people."

Ms. Rice also said a successful Israeli withdrawal could re-energize the internationally backed Road Map peace plan.

Ms. Rice came here to try to salvage a five-month Israeli-Palestinian truce that was badly shaken by a surge in violence last week, and to ensure Israel's Gaza pullout remains on track.

She met Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his ranch in southern Israel.

Secretary Rice also paid a surprise visit to neighboring Lebanon Friday afternoon, and met in Beirut with some of the country's newly elected leaders.

Her visit to the region was overshadowed, however, by terrorist attacks elsewhere - the attempted bombings in London on Thursday, a bomb attack in Beirut just hours after her visit there and a series of deadly bombings in neighboring Egypt in the early morning hours Saturday - in the Red Sea resort area of Sharm-el-Sheikh.