Rice visits Mid East

In a two-day trip to the region, Ms Rice will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before the two men are due to hold talks on June 21.

A US official said Ms Rice wanted to get the two leaders to at least agree on a process for holding further discussions to coordinate Israel’s scheduled withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in August.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials have held talks about ensuring a peaceful evacuation of 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four more in the West Bank.

But there has been no coordination plan drawn up amid Israeli concerns that Palestinian militants could instigate attacks on retreating Israelis.

An agreement has remained elusive between the two sides, with Mr Abbas demanding a pledge from Israel to pull back from more West Bank settlements.

Israel has halted the handovers saying that Mr Abbas must do more to disarm Palestinian militants.

Ms Rice said she would make clear to both leaders their respective obligations towards the so-called Mid East peace road map.

“I’m certainly going to talk with President Abbas about the need for the Palestinians to play a critical role in providing a secure environment in which the Gaza disengagement can take place,” Ms Rice said.

She pointed to the importance of stifling attacks and ending “revolving-door arrests” of militants as well as dealing with the stockpiling of weapons by the radical Islamic Hamas group.

Stern words are also expected for Israel over the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem which has stirred resentment among Palestinians.

Meanwhile, reports have surfaced indicating that international special envoy James Wolfensohn is seeking to raise an aid package worth as much as US$3b (A$3.89b) to help Palestinians after the pullout.

The New York Times, which first reported the effort, said Mr Wolfensohn was trying to raise the money for projects including a seaport, border crossings and other infrastructure.

“There are ideas that are being discussed. This is one that is being reported. And I would characterise it as a subject for discussion and that’s where we are,” US Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said when quizzed on the report.