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The U.S. administration is urging Israel to engage Egypt in immediate dialogue in order to find a joint solution to the problem of the breached Gaza-Egypt border. The U.S. wants Israel to show some flexibility on Egypt's demand to add 750 soldiers to its border force, as well as to agree to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's proposal to take over responsibility for the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch visited Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority last week and held talks on the situation in the Gaza Strip. In Israel he met with Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, advisers to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as defense and foreign ministry officials. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit the region herself shortly.

Welch briefed Israeli officials on his meetings with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Welch said that the breaching of the wall by Hamas has led to a significant change in Egypt's attitude toward the situation in the Gaza Strip in general and the border in particular.

He told his Israeli counterparts that the Egyptians are now more ready than ever to cooperate in order to change the situation at the border as well as combat smuggling there. Welch said the Egyptians' recent anti-Hamas statements show that they now feel that the problem has become theirs, too.

Welch said that Israel should talk to Egypt about Cairo's desire to double its border force, which he said would serve both Israeli and Egyptian interests.

According to Welch, the new situation at the border has created an opportunity to find a more comprehensive solution to smuggling and other issues related to the Rafah border crossing. He called for the urgent convention of a four-way security summit attended by Israel, Egypt, the PA and the U.S. to end the crisis.

Welch told Israeli officials about progress on the extension of U.S. aid to Egypt to fight smuggling at the border. He said the U.S. and Egypt agreed on the introduction of various technological measures to locate smuggling tunnels, which will be provided to Egypt in the near future.

Another issue discussed during the talks was the operation of the border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The U.S. supports Fayyad's proposal to assume responsibility for the Karni and Sufa crossings. Welch told his Israeli interlocutors that he believed that Israel must reach an understanding with Fayyad on the issue.

The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia, said that Rice will return to the region shortly in an effort to restart the talks between Israel and the PA in the West Bank. Qureia said that the negotiations had not begun in earnest between the parties, which have only presented their positions.

Fayyad is scheduled to meet in Washington with Rice as part of a visit to the U.S. aimed at expediting the transfer of U.S. aid to the PA.