Secretary of State Colin Powell is calling for Israel to ease living conditions for Palestinians. His comments followed a meeting in the West Bank town of Jericho with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
Secretary Powell, who came to the region to push the U.S.-backed plan for Middle East peace, said both sides should take advantage of a new opportunity to move the peace process forward. He said no one should underestimate the challenges ahead, but he said the United States is committed to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
He called for Israel to take direct action to improve the lives of Palestinians. "I have underscored to Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and his government the need for Israel to do its part in improving the daily lives of Palestinians and show respect for their dignity," Mr. Powell said.
He was speaking at a joint news conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on the so-called road map for peace.
He also said that the United States will provide an additional $50 million to build roads and create jobs in the occupied territories. But he said, the terrorist infrastructure must be dismantled, or peace will fail.
Mr. Abbas told reporters that his talks with Mr. Powell were "deep, serious and positive."
Israel has asked for 15 changes to the plan, but the Palestinians say they accept the plan as written. Mr. Abbas warned against what he called a "selective" approach to the road map for peace, and urged Israel to accept it.
Secretary Powell said the United States welcomes what he said were the "positive political steps already taken by Palestinian officials toward reform and toward peace."
Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel is prepared to make concessions for peace.
Israel also announced the release of 61 Palestinian detainees in what it described as a confidence-building step.
Late Saturday, Israel's army announced it is easing some travel restrictions on Palestinians to allow workers to enter Israel.