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US Urges Restraint as Mideast Violence Continues

17 May 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas Thursday to discuss the latest outburst of violence in Gaza. Rice, appealing for restraint by all sides, is expected to visit the region again within a matter of weeks. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials are watching the intra-Palestinian violence and Israeli retaliation to rocket firings from Gaza with concern though they say the events of the last few days have not derailed U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.

Rice, just back from a trip to Moscow, made separate telephone calls Thursday morning to Prime Minister Olmert and Mr. Abbas to discuss the Gaza events.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said she appealed for restraint on the part of all the parties while acknowledging that Israel, which has conducted air strikes in Gaza, is entitled to self defense from Gaza missile attacks.

"We understand that the Israeli government has a right to defend itself, and they have explained that their actions over the past day or so have been trying to stop further rocket launches into Israeli territory, rocket launches that have injured Israeli citizens," said McCormack.

"But we've also urged them to consider the consequences of their actions on the Palestinian infrastructure as well as on what effect it might have on the prospects for moving forward the political process," he added.

McCormack put the blame squarely on Hamas for the latest intra-Palestinian violence in Gaza. He said to achieve peace Palestinians must resolve the fundamental political contradiction posed by the Islamic movement, which seeks to both govern and remain an armed faction.

Secretary Rice, who has already visited the region three times this year, had considered another in connection with her Moscow trip. But she put it off because of Mr. Olmert's political difficulties stemming from last year's Lebanon conflict.

A senior U.S. diplomat told reporters she will hold another round of talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming weeks, in part to press the sides to act on confidence-building steps proposed by the United States earlier this month.

The United States has asked Israel over the next several weeks to, among other things, dismantle some security checkpoints in the West Bank and allow Palestinian bus travel between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority is to develop and then enact a plan by late June to stop the rocket firings into Israel from militant factions in Gaza.

U.S. officials describe the plan as a set of benchmarks, as opposed to deadlines, aimed at improving the climate for political talks.

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