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In Berlin, Rice Criticizes Israel Demolitions in Gaza

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice criticized Israel for bulldozing homes in Gaza in response to the killing of 13 Israeli soldiers last week. Rice held talks with Palstinian PM Qureia in Berlin on Monday.

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Rice met with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer during her stop in Berlin.

U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice criticized Israel at a Monday meeting in Berlin with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia for its mass demolition plan in a Gaza refugee camp.

Saeb Erekat, Palestinian cabinet minister and a member of Qureia's delegation said that Qureia had urged immediate action to stop Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip even as Israeli tanks cut off the Rafah refugee camp from the rest of the Gaza strip on Monday prompting Palestinians to flee their homes.

"We stressed the need to interfere immediately to stop the major catastrophe taking place in Rafah," Erekat said. "(The U.S.) said they have contacted the Israelis on the Rafah demolitions," he added.

Combo: Kureira und Rice

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, left, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice

Rice's meeting with Qureia aimed to emphasize the Bush administration's backing for Palestinian statehood, while pressing for Palestinian reforms. It was also attempt to regain support among Palestinian that was lost when Bush supported Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's one-time plan to pull out of Gaza while leaving settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian delegates said they had asked for action to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes, saying they received a pledge that "the Americans will act now to stop what is going on in Rafah," Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told AP.

Rice did not confirm that remark to reporters, but said the U.S. had repeatedly raised concerns that the destruction of Palestinian homes in the area was "not conducive to peace."

"We understand the need for Israel to defend itself," she said. "But we also recognize that Israel is going to have to live next door to the Palestinians."

Erekat also confirmed to the Associated Press (AP) that the U.S. had committed itself to the creation of a Palestinian state.

"Rice reiterated that they are committed to the two-state solution and that (George W.) Bush is the first president to commit to a Palestinian state," Erekat said. He described the meeting as "in-depth, constructive and positive."

U.S. officials said Rice at the same time had urged greater progress on political and security reforms from the Palestinians and stressed that Washington views Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a "negative and unhelpful" factor.

"It's extremely important at this point that the Palestinians begin the hard work of building the institutions that will be the foundations for a Palestinian state," she said.

Attacks in Iraq could get worse

Rice condemned the killing in Baghdad of Izzedin Salim, the head of Iraq's Governing Council, by a suicide bomber, adding that it must not stand in the way of the transition to power to the Iraqis on June 30.

"We have known for a long time, particularly in the run-up to June 30, that there were going to be people who would try to derail the political process and the political transition," she said. "You have to keep the political transition on track."

"It is clearly time for the occupation to end," she said. "It is clearly time for the Iraqis to be in control of their own political future."

Salim, a moderate Shi'ite and newspaper editor, was one of six people killed by a bomb that blew up at a checkpoint as he was waiting in a convoy to get into the coalition headquarters.

Rice said such attacks could worsen in the weeks leading up to June 30 as insurgents try to derail the political transition.

"We have to help (Iraqis) provide security until they can provide it for themselves," Rice told reporters.

Handover to Iraqis on track

One day earlier, Rice had stressed that the planned handover of power to an Iraqi administration was on track. "It is absolutely critical that we keep our word to the Iraqi people that on June 30 they will receive sovereignty," she told political talk show host Sabine Christiansen in an interview for ARD television. "They will be fully sovereign in making their own decisions, and that is how it should be."

But she added that U.S. forces would not withdraw from Iraq until the situation in the country had been stabilized. "We'll stay until the job is done. We're not at the point where we want to be."

Praise for German role in Middle East

On Monday, the Palestinian representative in Berlin, Abdallah Franghi welcomed Germany's mediatory role in the Middle East.

In a radio interview, Franghi said the Germans had played a very important role as a catalyst. "The fact that the meeting (between Rice and Qureia) is taking place in Berlin is no coincidence," he said. "Germany supports the peace process in the Middle East and I believe, that the Germans can do a lot in this respect," Franghi added.

Joschka Fischer im Bundestag

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

In recent years, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (photo), in particular, has regularly traveled to the region to meet with Palestinian and Israeli leaders and urge them to the negotiating table.

Even within the EU, Germany has consistently stuck to its line of a separate state for the Palestinians as the only way to bring lasting peace to the Middle East. Even Washington's recent about-face to endorse Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's unilateral plan to withdraw from Gaza while retaining parts of the occupied West Bank sparked criticism within Germany.

During a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last month, Chancellor Schröder said, "The Palestinians have the right to expect that decisions will not be made over their heads."

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