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DAVOS - Israel could allow Gaza crossings to be opened under the security control of the Palestinian Authority, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said here yesterday.

"If the PA's security could be as effective as that of Jordan, Egypt, or even Syria, we would consider alleviating the situation [in the Gaza Strip] significantly," he said, adding: "We're not promising anything."

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said this statement was a source of hope. "We must seriously consider Israel's security concerns. We are committed to non-violence and to solving the conflict by peaceful means," he said.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would not commit to completing negotiations with the Palestinians by the end of the year, when President George W. Bush's term in office comes to an end. She said the agreement is not connected to the present American administration.

"I don't like working to a timetable because it leads to frustration and violence," she said.

Livni said both sides want to solve the conflict and it takes time to do so properly. "I don't believe it's connected to the present American administration. We're doing it for our own sakes. We want to do it this year. We will have meetings every few days.

Livni said that before implementing the agreement certain changes must be made. "At this stage it does not appear possible to complete the agreement and throw a key over the fence, hoping someone on the other side catches it.

"We need an effective government that can rule, a proper administration, something that could change the situation and accept the key not only in the West Bank but in Gaza," she said.