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Rice to Launch New Middle East Peace Mission

By Robert Berger
14 June 2008

The United States' top diplomat is heading to the Middle East to try to give a boost to the peace process, but expectations are low, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to assess progress in six months of peace talks. She is pushing for a peace agreement before President Bush leaves office in January.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says both sides are working hard.

"There is a dedication, a commitment, to continue with the political dialogue, not to allow concerns that both sides have to interfere with the political dialogue, not to allow those concerns to destroy the political dialogue," he said. "Ultimately, the goal is to reach that historic agreement by the end of this year."

Israel is concerned that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is doing little to crack down on militant groups and prevent terrorism.

The Palestinians are concerned about Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Jewish settlement expansion. Palestinian officials were furious after an Israel's announcement on Friday that it plans to build 1,300 more homes in disputed East Jerusalem, on land the Palestinians claim for their future capital. That brings to more than 3,000 the number of homes Israel has approved for settlement construction since peace talks resumed in December.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Israel must choose between settlements and peace.

"We condemn the Israeli government decision to build settlement housing units," he said. "This undermines out effort to continue with the peace process."

The United States has also condemned settlement expansion as an obstacle to peace.

The chief Palestinian negotiator said it would take a "miracle" to reach a peace agreement by the end of the year, because of disputes over settlements, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

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