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Agreement on Rafah Crossing Expected

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Israel and the Palestinians are close to agreement on re-opening a key border crossing linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Her comments came after separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that re-opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt is necessary to allow freedom of movement for Palestinians living in Gaza.

Israel closed the Rafah crossing shortly before withdrawing from Gaza in September. Its reopening for Palestinian travel and trade is widely seen as crucial for reviving the Palestinian economy.

Following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ms. Rice said the Palestinians have obligations to meet to move the peace process forward.

"We talked about the need to support the democratic process here in the Palestinian territories, and also the need to condemn and fight terror. It is a roadmap obligation of the Palestinian Authority to fight terror and dismantle the infrastructure of terror."

Ms. Rice was referring to long-running negotiations concerning the internationally supported "road map" peace plan.

International envoy James Wolfensohn has been leading those talks, but recently expressed frustration over the stalemate.

Mr. Wolfensohn has introduced a set of proposals aimed at easing Israeli security concerns about traffic through Rafah.

Earlier, Ms. Rice met with Israeli leaders - including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials say a compromise package now being considered would include the stationing of security personnel from the European Union to "augment" Palestinians involved in policing the Rafah complex.