Rice begins Mideast tour

Other News Materials 4 March 2008 11:46 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began Tuesday a Middle East tour with a stop in Cairo where she held talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit over the escalation of violence and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

Rice was also expected to discuss in a meeting with Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak US and Israeli concerns that weapons are still being smuggled into the Gaza Strip across its border with Egypt.

The political standoff in Lebanon is also on the agenda.

Rice had planned the regional tour a few weeks ago before the outbreak of violence in Gaza with recent Israeli offensives and rocket attacks launched by militants from the territory at Israel.

In protest at Israel's military operation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas broke off peace talks.

Rice said, however, that peace was still possible.

She told reporters at a refuelling stop in Brussels that the militant group Hamas was to blame for the recent outbreak of violence.

"I continue to believe that they (Israelis and Palestinians) can get to a deal by the end of the year if everyone's got the will to do it," Rice said.