Rice Arrives for Mideast Peace Talks

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CBNNew.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel Saturday evening for her sixth visit to the region this year.

Before meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Sunday, Rice told reporters that Israeli construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods, which the Palestinian Authority (PA) claims for their future state, could potentially "harm the negotiations."

"I am very concerned that at a time when we need to build confidence between the parties the continued building and settlement activity has the potential to harm the negotiations going forward," Rice said.

PA officials want the US to pressure Israel over what it considers "settlement" construction.

"The United States should exert real pressure on Israel and not just make statements," Nimr Hamad, aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas said. "That's what we'll ask for from Secretary Rice," he said.

The PA was angry over Israel's announcement Friday to build 1,300 new units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, rejected the criticism.

"Everyone understands that in any final status agreement, Jewish neighborhoods will be part of Israel and creating controversy over these neighborhoods is in no way contributing to moving the peace process forward," he said.

Following the meeting with Livni, Rice met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, afterward traveling to Ramallah to meet with PA government officials.

The secretary of state wrapped up Sunday with a dinner meeting at the prime minister's Jerusalem residence.

Monday, Rice plans to hold two trilateral meetings, first with the heads of the Israeli and PA negotiating teams, Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, followed by a meeting with Barak and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

In the meeting with Barak and Fayyad, Rice is expected to press for removal of additional checkpoints in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

According to the secretary of state, Israel hasn't done enough to alleviate "restrictions" on Palestinians residing in Judea and Samaria.

Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials reported that the US-backed initiative to deploy Palestinian security forces in Jenin and Nablus (biblical Shechem) are doing little to combat the terror infrastructure.

On Sunday morning, Palestinian terrorists remotely detonated a 44-pound bomb near an IDF unit operating in the city. There were no injuries.

"The PA forces in the city are not combating the terrorists," an IDF official said. "They are taking action to enforce law and order, but they are doing nothing about terror, which has increased in the past month since they deployed in Jenin," he said.

According to another defense official, terror suspects arrested by PA police are released within hours or a few days at the most.

"There is no effective judicial system in the city," the defense official said.

IDF officials also noted that US-supplied weapons are ending up in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Jenin and Nablus, where some 3,000 PA security forces are deployed.

According to one Israeli official, Palestinian terrorists have been incorporated into the security forces, whose training and deployment was monitored by the US Security Coordinator to Israel and the PA, Lt. General Keith Dayton.

Meanwhile, Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council (the organization representing Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria) placed the blame for Rice's remarks with the Olmert government.

"An ambassador for a foreign country comes to Jerusalem and scolds Israel for providing housing for its citizens in the heart of its capital city. But the blame lies with [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni, who consent to this," Dayan said.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, YNet news

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