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Rice cites progress by Palestinian security forces (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) WASHINGTON 02/01/05)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=5&u=/afp/20050202/wl_mideast_afp/usricemideast_050202003329 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Palestinian forces have made progress toward bolstering security in the Palestinian territories but have a "long way to go" to be fully operational, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

In an interview before leaving Thursday on a tour of Europe and the Middle East, Rice also cited Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas´ determination to rein in Islamic militants as an encouraging sign in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"We´re clearly in a more hopeful set of circumstances than we were several months ago," Rice told AFP and the Reuters news agency, referring to efforts to revive a US-backed "road map" for peace.

"There are a lot of circumstances that are coming into place that should give us greater opportunity to progress back onto the road map and then hopefully on to a two-state solution."

The chief US diplomat said the priority task was for the Palestinians to reform their security services and clamp down on anti-Israeli attacks by the militants.

"I think they have made some progress in this regard," she said. "It´s not perfect, but they have made some progress."

She was heartened by Abbas´ move to deploy Palestinian forces in Gaza but said much work needed to be done to unify his security services, put them under central control and equip and train them.

"We have a long way to go to fully capable Palestinian security forces, but there also has to be a will and I do think Abbas showed will in acting quickly," Rice said.

"We hope they´ll continue to act and to act more effectively."

Since taking over US diplomacy from Colin Powell (news - web sites) last week, Rice has signaled stepped-up US involvement in the Middle East peace process and pledged to take a personal role.

She was due to travel to Israel and the West Bank on Sunday and Monday for talks with Abbas and likely also with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"What I hope to do when I go there is to try and help to sustain the momentum that they have clearly developed over the last several weeks," she said in the interview Tuesday.

Rice said the Israelis also had an obligation to advance the peace process on issues such as the removal of checkpoints where possible in the Palestinian territories so residents could commute to work more easily.

"Mobility is (an) area in which, as this moves forward and the security improves, that you would hope the Israelis would be responsive."

But she said the Palestinians should take heart from Israel´s announced willingness to pull out of occupied towns where the Palestinians might be able to assert security control.

"That is the kind of move by the Israelis that I think should give some confidence to the Palestinians that they are going to eventually be in control of their own affairs," Rice said. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 02/01/05)

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