US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday on the final leg of a regional tour seeking to rally support for a Middle East peace conference later this year. It was her first visit to the region since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June.
Upon arrival to the West Bank city of Ramallah, Rice went straight into a meeting with Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad. She also met with the entire Palestinian Cabinet on Thursday, a gesture of support for the team that replaced the unity government after Hamas took control on Gaza Strip.
"We do have in the Palestinian territories a government that is devoted to the international principles, the foundational principles for peace and this is an opportunity that should not be missed," she said on Wednesday when she met senior Israeli leaders. On Thursday she said Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was prepared to discuss borders and other core issues in "general terms" that could lead to an "agreement of principles" for establishing a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians asked Rice to apply pressure on Israel to hand over security control in West Bank cities to boost Abbas in his standoff with Hamas. "Our plan is to deploy Palestinian security forces in all the cities of the West Bank and this needs coordination with Israel," information minister Riyad al-Malki said.
Meanwhile, Hamas accused Rice of trying to deepen the divisions among Palestinians. "Rice did not come to the region to establish a Palestinian state, as she and her master Bush claimed, but instead she came to support one Palestinian party against another, and to support the Zionist occupation," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.