Bursts of Violence Cloud Israel's Gaza Departure

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As Israelis prepare to pull settlers out of the Gaza strip, sporadic violence from Palestinian militants is causing concern. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged cooperation from both sides during her recent visit to the region.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way back to Washington after three days of shuttle diplomacy meant to encourage Israeli-Palestinian coordination of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza next month. As Rice was leaving to return to Washington, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli husband and wife who had been visiting family in the Jewish settlements in Gaza. As NPR's Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued a strong warning after that attack.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Speaking at today's Cabinet meeting, Sharon said Israel will not put up with Palestinian attacks like this shooting that killed Doeve and Rahel Kol(ph) overnight. Sharon said he made it clear to Secretary Rice that if there is violence during Israel's pullback from Gaza next month, Israel's reaction will be of, quote, "a different kind with the addition of very harsh means." Both the Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the shooting on the road connecting Gaza to Israel. Israeli soldiers shot and killed the two gunmen; two soldiers were wounded in the gun battle.

Israeli officials said Secretary Rice is expected to make another trip to the region next month to oversee the Gaza withdrawal. On this trip, she met both Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as making an previously unannounced stop in Lebanon. After meeting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary Rice said Gaza must not become a prison for the 1.3 million Palestinians who live there after the Israeli withdrawal.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Department of State): The principle the United States is operating on is that Gaza is going to be Palestinian, and that means that the Palestinian people have to experience freedom of movement in Gaza, it is also the case that there has to be a link between Gaza and the West Bank and it ought to be the case, as we've been saying for many months, that there needs to be greater freedom of movement on the West Bank itself.

GRADSTEIN: Palestinian officials welcomed Secretary Rice's remarks. Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat.

Mr. SAEB EREKAT (Palestinian Cabinet Minister): The first issue is to sustain the cessation of violence. It's in the interest of all parties to sustain the hudna, the calm, the cessation of violence mutually.

GRADSTEIN: Secretary Rice decided on the trip after a suicide bombing in Israel almost two weeks ago killed five Israelis and Israeli air strikes killed seven Palestinian gunmen. She urged both Israel and the Palestinians to try to prevent violence, and said Abbas must do more to stop Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on Israel.

Israeli officials say their primary focus is an end to the Palestinian violence. Only then, they say, will it be possible to discuss other issues such as freedom of movement for Palestinians. They said Secretary Rice asked Israel to try to help strengthen Palestinian leader Abbas, afraid that after the Gaza withdrawal, Hamas could take over Gaza.

But with just over three weeks before the pullout, both sides say major issues remain unresolved. However, the Ha'aretz newspaper today reported that most of the 450 farmers who live in the Jewish settlements in Gaza that are due to be dismantled have signed an agreement with the World Bank to leave their greenhouses to the Palestinians in exchange for money they can use to build new greenhouses in Israel. The World Bank has said those greenhouses could provide thousands of Palestinian jobs. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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