Rice puts pressure on Israel over border crossings

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to ease border crossings around Gaza, a move she said was essential to spur an economic revival needed for peace.

"It is very clear that the crossings issue needs to get resolved, not just the Rafah crossings but the issues of freedom of movement within the West Bank and issues about other crossings that need to be freed up so that the kind of economic program that we all want to see in the Palestinian territories (can happen)," Rice told at the end of a one-day visit to Canada.

Rice's comments came after Middle East envoy James Wolfensohn criticized Israel for delaying agreements to open Gaza Strip border crossings following its withdrawal and said that could hinder a Palestinian economic revival.

Wolfensohn voiced his concern in a letter to the peacemaking Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, who hope the Gaza pullout could revive a U.S.-sponsored peace "road map".

Gaza has been largely cut off from the outside world since Israel completed its troop withdrawal on September 12.

The Rafah foot crossing to Egypt has been essentially shut since troops left. Agreement has still not been reached on a formal re-opening, possibly with foreign monitors to ease Israeli concerns over arms smuggling.

In his letter, Wolfensohn also criticized the Palestinian Authority for worsening the economic situation by deciding on a public sector salary hike.

Rice urged the Palestinians to do more to push the peace process forward and while the Gaza withdrawal was historic, she said more work was needed, Reuters reports.

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