Rice makes first Mideast trip since Hamas took Gaza
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Israel and the West Bank this month to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, making her first trip to the region since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, a US official said on Friday.
Rice’s July 16 to 20 trip to Ramallah, Jerusalem and Accra, where she will discuss trade and economic issues with African officials, is her first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in four months.
“The secretary will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah for meetings with officials from the Israeli and the Palestinian Authority governments,” the US official told reporters, adding that additional stops were possible.
The official said he could not confirm reports that the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators—the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia—might meet in the region on July 16, saying no meeting was yet scheduled.
The official, who spoke on condition he not be identified because the trip has yet to be formally announced, said Rice hoped to “move forward” on Israeli-Palestinian peace but gave no details on how she planned to do so.
The Hamas victory has transformed the Palestinian political and security landscape and effectively divided the Palestinians between the West Bank, which is governed by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.
The United States, the European Union and Israel regard Hamas, which came to power last year after it won Palestinian parliamentary elections, as a terrorist organisation.
For more than a year after that, the United States sought to isolate Hamas and to strengthen Abbas and his forces in their power struggle with the Islamist group.
After the defeat of Fatah forces in Gaza, Abbas dissolved a Hamas-led national unity government and appointed economist Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister of an interim administration.
Washington now hopes to nurture peace contacts between the new Palestinian administration and Israel.
Rice last visited Israel and the West Bank in March, when she announced that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas planned to meet every two weeks—a schedule that the two politically weakened leaders were unable to meet.
In Accra, Rice will attend a forum gathering many of the 38 sub-Saharan African countries that receive trade benefits under the seven-year-old US African Growth and Opportunity Act.
The US law allows these countries to ship virtually all their goods to the United States without paying import duties. - Reuters.