Sources: Rice will ask Olmert to lift roadblocks in West Bank
American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will come to Jerusalem this morning and meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Before this, Rice will visit Jericho, where she will meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Rice's visit to Jerusalem is meant to show American support for the new negotiating process, official sources say. That began with the cease-fire, and should presumably lead to setting up a Palestinian national unity government.
In the next stage, the U.S. is expected to help jump-start the political negotiations between Israel and the PA.
After the meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jericho today, Jerusalem sources say they expect Rice to ask Olmert to help Abbas by alleviating the siege on the Gaza Strip and removing non-essential roadblocks in the West Bank.
Palestinian sources said Rice is expected to ask Abbas and Israel to expand the cease-fire to the West Bank. They will also discuss implementing the border passes agreement that was signed by the U.S., Israel and the PA after Israel's pullout from Gaza.
Before Rice's visit, an extremely critical report written by the United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in the Territories is to be released. The report, a copy of which has reached Haaretz, accuses Israel of violating the border passes agreement's every single clause.
The report says that closing the passes for most of the year catapulted the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip from 33 percent in 2005 to 42 percent this year. Since Shalit's abduction on June 25 this year, the passes have been closed 86 percent of the time, the report says. Since mid-January, the average number of trucks passing through Karni has been 12 a day, while in the agreement Israel had undertaken to raise the number to 400 trucks a day by the end of the year.
Israel also violated its commitment to alleviate the passage of people and merchandise in the West Bank, and to enable the passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In fact, all contact between the two regions has been cut off. The number of roadblocks in the West Bank rose during the past year by 44 percent and Israel divided the West Bank into ten enclaves.
Israel broke its commitment to allow convoys to pass from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and to advance the operation of air and sea ports in the Gaza Strip.
The UN report emphasizes that since the beginning of April, the reason given for most of the times the Karni terminal was closed was security, but that no security breach had occurred there since April 26.
The cumbersome security arrangements enable only 40 percent of the trucks carrying export goods from the Gaza Strip to go through the border pass. The resulting damage to agricultural exports is estimated to be more than $30 million for this year. The losses incurred to the hothouses purchased from the Gush Katif settlements, resulting from the need to destroy hundreds of tons of strawberries and flowers, reached $6 million.
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