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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

BBC NEWS | Business | Rice steps into Gaza crossing row Rice steps into Gaza crossing row

BBC NEWS | Business | Rice steps into Gaza crossing row Rice steps into Gaza crossing row
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has added her voice to calls for Israel to speed up the opening of border crossings with Gaza.

Ms Rice said the Gaza crossing issue needed to be resolved rapidly, in order to improve economic prospects for Palestinians in the area.

Ease of travel within the West Bank also needed to improve, she said.

She was speaking after international envoy James Wolfensohn accused Israel of holding up the process.

Speaking to reporters in Canada, Ms Rice echoed Mr Wolfensohn's concerns about the economic damage that blocked crossings could cause.

She said his comments should be taken as a spur to both sides to proceed faster.

"The crossings issue needs to get resolved: not just the Rafah crossings but the issues of freedom of movement within the West Bank and issues about other crossings that need to be freed up", so that economic development could proceed, she said.

Slow going

Mr Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank and now an advocate for reconstruction in Gaza, wrote to the United Nations earlier in October to warn that Israel was dragging its feet on the question of border crossings.

Israel vacated Gaza in September after almost four decades of occupation, leaving it in Palestinian hands - although its borders remain under Israeli control.

But at the same time it closed off the crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah, the key conduit between the Palestinian territory and the outside world.

Transit between Gaza and Israel is also severely circumscribed, leading to severe bottlenecks in the flow of goods in and out - and of people.

That, Mr Wolfensohn wrote, meant that economic revival was at risk - and with it hopes for a concrete and continuing peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel denied the accusation, saying that it was simply trying to ensure its security was not compromised.

However, Mr Wolfensohn had also criticised the Palestinian Authority for raising public sector salaries before the resources were there to underpin the extra spending.
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