Israeli troops and border police clashed with Palestinians at a refugee camp near the West Bank town of Bethlehem as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tel Aviv in a bid to revive faltering Middle East peace talks.
She faces a difficult task on the first anniversary of the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Prospects for agreement between the militant group and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah do not bode well despite demonstrations calling for an end to the internal fighting.
Coupled with the impasse between the two sides, Israel says it has approved the construction of 1,300 new homes in an area of the West Bank the Israelis consider to be part of Jerusalem. Rice has prepared the ground by calling Jewish settlement building a problem.
The Palestinians have called the announcement part of a systematic policy to destroy the peace process. Negotiators want Rice to make the issue her top priority.
International sanctions remain on Gaza, widening the poverty gap with the West Bank – the rift between the two Palestinian factions serving only to undermine the quest for a Palestinian state.
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