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Rice praises negotiations, condemns settlements

Condoleezza Rice praised Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiations as “serious” and “intensive,” and condemned Israeli settlement activity.

The U.S. Secretary of State made the comments to reporters following a meeting Tuesday morning with Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She met earlier for breakfast with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

She later met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice will meet later Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmad Qurei. She will also hold a three-way meeting with Livni and Queri.

Rice and Livni also addressed the issue of Jewish construction in the West Bank, which made headlines Tuesday after the release of a Peace Now report which shows that settlement construction has doubled during 2008.

“I think that is no secret and I’ve said it my Israeli counterparts that I don’t think the settlement activity is helpful to the process, that in fact what we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties and that anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided,” Rice said.

“At the end of the day the Israeli government’s policy is not to expand settlements, not to build new settlements and not to confiscate Palestinian land,” Livni said.

In a news conference with Livni, Abbas said that settlement construction is the main obstacle to peace. He said that the Palestinians will work toward a comprehensive solution.

Rice is on her seventh Middle East trip in the past nine months.

Hours before Rice’s arrival, Israel released 198 Palestinian prisoners in a good-will gesture.

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