- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

1:05 p.m.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today, said the United States is worried about the plight of the Palestinians and pledged to improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Miss Rice, in the region in hope of reviving long-moribund peace efforts, said the United States will “redouble efforts” to help the Palestinians.

Earlier, Miss Rice called on Islamist militants to cooperate with Mr. Abbas, saying the Hamas government cannot govern in the region. She has been seeking to boost Mr. Abbas in his standoff with Hamas radicals who control part of the Palestinian government.

“I told the president that we are very concerned, of course, about the humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territories,” she said. “I said to him that we would redouble our efforts to improve the conditions for the Palestinian people.”

The Palestinian economy has been hit hard by international sanctions imposed after the Hamas militant group swept to power in legislative elections early this year. Despite the pain, Hamas has refused international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Abbas, who was elected separately in presidential elections last year, has urged Hamas to accept the international conditions. He has been pushing Hamas to form a coalition government with Fatah as a way to ending the standoff.

Miss Rice also said she hopes it will “not be very long” before Mr. Abbas meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Miss Rice will travel to Jerusalem for talks with the Israeli leader later in the day.

Before meeting with Miss Rice, Mr. Abbas said talks with Hamas on forming a more moderate coalition government had broken down. He also said a new Cabinet must be formed to end a recent surge in violence that claimed 10 lives in three days. Mr. Abbas didn’t elaborate.

“There is no dialogue now,” he said at a press conference with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa.

A preliminary coalition agreement announced Sept. 11 “is over now, and we have to start from square one,” he said.

Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in January, refuses to moderate its violently anti-Israel ideology, despite crushing international sanctions.

Miss Rice is on a Mideast tour this week to strengthen moderate forces in the region, including Mr. Abbas.

She saw Egypt’s longtime leader, President Hosni Mubarak, for a private meeting before she left Cairo for Israel and the West Bank.

She got both a polite hearing and a lecture yesterday from the United States’ two most powerful friends in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both said the Middle East’s many volatile conflicts are hinged to Israel’s long conflict with the Palestinians.

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