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Rice Urges Resumption of Middle East Peace Efforts


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet Wednesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and also holds talks with Israeli leaders. The aim is to shore up support for the Palestinian leader and boost efforts for a resumption of peace talks - all amid rising violence between Palestinian factions.

Secretary Rice has come to urge Arab allies to bolster support for regional peace efforts and for the beleaguered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

That was clear in the open praise she had for the Palestinian leader after her talks in Cairo with Egyptian and other Arab officials.

"I would hope that he [Abbas] knows how admired he is and how respected he is in this group," she said. "There is a great desire to help him to help the Palestinian people."

Arab leaders have long said that the Israel-Palestinian issue is at the core of conflict in the Middle East. Secretary Rice heard much the same message during her talks in Riyadh and Cairo. Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit called the Palestinian problem the scourge of this region, and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is creating a breeding ground for extremism.

The United States wants greater support from regional allies to bolster moderate Arab leaders like President Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. In turn, Washington hopes that will help isolate groups like Hamas and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, which the United States and Israel consider terrorist groups. Washington also hopes to curb the influence of Iran and Syria, which it accuses of supporting terrorism -- a charge both those countries deny.

Secretary Rice's visit to the region comes amid increasing violence, this time between Palestinians in what is seen as an ever growing power struggle. At least a dozen people have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza, during the past several days, in gun battles between militants loyal to the Hamas government and those linked to President Abbas's Fatah faction. Wednesday morning, masked gunmen killed a local Hamas leader in the northern West Bank and Fatah militants have issued death threats against senior Hamas leaders.

Secretary Rice is due to meet with President Abbas in Ramallah, Wednesday, before holding talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem in the evening.