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Rice: Gaza homes will be destroyed

Sharon: Palestinians not living up to commitments to fight terror


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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to the destruction of 1,200 homes that Jewish settlers will abandon when they leave Gaza this summer, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

Rice announced the agreement after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree that the settler homes in Gaza should be removed; therefore, the parties will work toward a plan for destruction and cleanup," Rice said shortly before leaving for Jordan.

Rice's trip to the Middle East coincided with renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence.

On Sunday, two simultaneous attacks on Israeli soldiers at the Gaza-Egypt border left one soldier and a Palestinian militant dead, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Five other Israeli soldiers were wounded, the IDF said.

Palestinian sources said the Abu Rish Brigade took responsibility for the two-pronged attack, confirming one of its members was killed.

The IDF said attacks against civilians and soldiers in Gaza have been on the rise recently.

During his meeting with Rice, Sharon complained that Palestinians "weren't living up to their commitments" to fight terrorism and are risking "losing an opportunity to move forward," the Israeli leader's press office said.

The U.S. secretary of state also met with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, West Bank, on Saturday, telling them they should actively use security forces to combat lawlessness and terrorism. (Full story)

Sharon's office's said the prime minister told Rice "that the Palestinians are not implementing their commitments regarding the war on terrorism and the dismantling of the terrorist organizations."

He also reportedly said that Kassam rocket attacks, weapons smuggling, attempts to initiate suicide bombings are continuing in Gaza and the West Bank.

In a statement, Sharon warned "that if the situation continues, the Palestinians will again lose an opportunity to move forward."

Rice told Sharon that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in "a difficult internal struggle" and assured the Israeli leader that the United States "will never ask of you anything which endangers your security," according to a statement from the prime minister's office.

During peace talks in Egypt in February, Abbas and Sharon announced a truce. Palestinian militants then declared a temporary cease-fire in March.

But the truce has been threatened by Palestinian militants in Gaza who are angry over Israeli military moves in the West Bank.

The United States strongly supports Sharon's plan to disengage from Gaza, but Palestinian leaders have said the plan is unilateral and should have been reached through negotiations. Sharon called it a necessary step that could advance peace efforts.

A chief concern is whether the Palestinian security apparatus is strong and well-organized enough to ensure security in the region once Israeli troops are gone.

Last month during Abbas' visit to the White House, President Bush pledged $50 million in direct U.S. aid for new Palestinian housing and infrastructure projects in Gaza. (Full story)

Bush said the aid is intended to help ensure the success of Israel's plan to pull out troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza

In April, Sharon visited Bush at his Texas ranch, where the U.S. leader said Israel must honor its commitment to halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. (Full story)

Rice's trip comes in advance of a meeting this week between Sharon and Abbas.

Sharon said he intends to ask the Palestinian leader "how it can be possible to make progress toward the road map, what he intends to do on the various security issues and how he intends to act to dismantle the terrorist organizations."

The "road map" for Middle East peace -- backed by the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations -- calls for a series of steps by the Israelis and Palestinians aimed at ending violence and establishing an independent Palestinian state.

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