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US Plans Int'l Summit After Gaza Pullout

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Thursday night said that Washington hopes to convene an international conference, after Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, to promote ties between Israel and the North African and Gulf countries.

The main aim of the conference would be to accelerate the renewal of contacts between Israel, North African states and the Gulf region, Rice told Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom at a meeting in Jerusalem.

The United States and Russia will sponsor the conference, which will also deal with regional programs in the Middle East, she added.

Rice emphasized that after the Gaza withdrawal, the parties must return to the roadmap.

The first stage of its implementation will be the demand that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) fulfill its commitments to fight terror, she continued.

Rice arrived in the region Thursday evening for a whirlwind three-day visit that will include talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Her visit is aimed at demonstrating America's involvement ahead of the disengagement and strengthening efforts at coordination between Israel and the PNA.

Rice decided to make the trip in the wake of a terrorist attack in Netanya last week, which gave rise to fears in Washington of renewed fighting between Israel and the Palestinians and the possible collapse of the pullout process.

For the first time, Rice will visit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Sycamore Ranch home on Friday. She will also meet with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

On Saturday, Rice will travel to the Palestinian areas, and is expected to urge Palestinian leaders to make efforts to combat terror.

(Xinhua News Agency July 22, 2005)

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