Salam Fayyad, Robert Gates - AFP - 25.3.11
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (L) welcoming U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates upon his arrival for a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 25, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the first trip by a U.S. defense chief to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday, meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and continuing to push for peace despite the recent spate of rocket and mortar attacks.

Fayyad's group, Fatah, which represents more moderate views, is a rival of Hamas and controls only the West Bank.

Sitting side by side at Fayyad's office, Gates said he looked forward to talking about progress toward a two-state solution. Fayyad said this is a time of great challenges throughout the region, and he was looking forward to a redoubling of the peace effort.

Gates made the long motorcade ride, winding through the hills lined with settlements into the West Bank, then transferred to armored cars for the ride through the checkpoint and into Fayyad's office center.

Direct peace talks that began in Washington in September 2010 froze within weeks after Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a partial moratorium on construction in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of setting preconditions for negotiations. Palestinians say the settlements will deny them a viable state.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since seizing power in a five-day civil war against Fatah in 2007. As a wave of pro-democracy unrest reverberates through the region, both sides have faced growing calls to reconcile. Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, controls only the West Bank.