Rice Wins Concessions from Israel

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel agreed to a series of "concrete steps" to help the Palestinian Authority (PA), which include removing some 50 roadblocks in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in the region Saturday for her second visit this month, announced the measures at a joint press conference, flanked by PA Prime Minister Fayyad Salam and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Under the plan, Israel will remove about 50 roadblocks, upgrade checkpoints to speed up the movement of Palestinians from PA-controlled areas and give Palestinians more security responsibility in the town of Jenin.

In addition to facilitating movement through the checkpoints, which Barak announced last week, Israel will also boost the number of travel and work permits to Palestinians and support economic projects in Palestinian towns.

In return, the Palestinians vowed to improve policing of Jenin "to provide law and order and work to prevent terror," according to a State Department statement released shortly before the press conference.

Barak and Fayyad, who signed off on the package earlier Sunday, agreed to pursue the measures with "special, immediate emphasis and work," the statement read.

"We've been told that this is going to start and, hopefully even be completed in a relatively short period of time," Rice told the press.

Immediately after the announcement, Barak's office issued a statement that said the Defense Ministry had approved the Israeli part of the package last week.

Neither Barak nor Fayyad, who both appeared at a brief photo opportunity with Rice after the meeting, made any statements to the press.

Rice said she was looking for "meaningful" steps from both sides to implement the long-stalled roadmap, the U.S.-backed peace plan.

Among the other measures in the package announced Sunday are plans to build new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages, connect Palestinian villages to the Israeli power grid and Israeli support for large-scale economic development programs and encouragement of foreign investment.

Meanwhile, at the 20th Arab summit in Damascus Saturday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said he's ready to unconditionally and immediately implement Yemen's initiative to reconcile with Hamas.

Abbas called on Hamas to end its coup in the Gaza Strip and support early legislative and presidential elections. He also condemned Israel for sabotaging the peace process.

Source: The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post 

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