Rice meets Olmert, as Israeli leader, Abbas set to continue talks
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday, on her final day of a three-day tour of Israel and the West Bank, ahead of a visit by US President George W Bush next week, reported dpa.
Olmert was scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem later in the day, as well as with their joint negotiations heads, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qureia.
Olmert and Abbas agreed in Annapolis, Maryland late last year to end a seven-year freeze in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and "make every effort" to reach a peace deal still this year.
But ongoing Israeli construction in those Jewish settlement blocks which Israel has vowed to keep even after a peace deal, and persisting violence in and from the Gaza Strip have cast doubt on the talks.
Rice said Sunday a peace deal was still possible before Bush leaves office in January 2009.
But in a news conference in Ramallah with Abbas, she called the Israeli settlement construction "problematic." She also said Israel could do more to improve the daily lives of Palestinians in Abbas' Fatah-dominated West Bank.
Israel meanwhile announced that it planned to remove another bottleneck checkpoint in the West Bank next week.
The "sheep checkpoint" south of Hebron on the southern West Bank is the third permanent one Israel has removed during the past month, as part of pledges made to the US.
The military plans to remove it after Israel celebrates its 60th Independence Day Thursday, Israel Radio reported. A flying roadblock will replace it for a transition period.