DEAD SEA, Jordan, (Reuters) – Militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel on Friday and Israeli troops killed a Palestinian in the West Bank, hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed hope for a shaky 5-day truce.
Rice, on her seventh visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in under two years, came away with no tangible results after a series of meetings on Thursday, but said she saw promise in the Gaza ceasefire struck last Sunday. “This is the kind of thing that takes time,” she told reporters after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jericho in the West Bank and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. “You don’t expect great leaps forward.”
Rice was expected to leave the region later on Friday after holding more meetings at a Dead Sea resort in Jordan.
Early on Friday, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron after he threw a petrol bomb at Israeli border police manning a roadblock, the army said. His family said he had gone out early to pray and that he did not belong to any militant group.
In Gaza, militants fired a homemade rocket into southern Israel, raising the number launched since the ceasefire began to more than a dozen. There were no reports of any injuries or damage from Friday’s attack. However, it did underline the shakiness of the truce, which has put at least a temporary halt to more than five months of fighting between Israeli forces and militants in the Gaza Strip.
During that time, more than 400 Palestinians have been killed, nearly half of them civilians. Three Israeli troops have also been killed.
Rice’s visit to the region comes at a time of heightened efforts to break months of impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians and advance the peace process, frozen since the militant Palestinian group Hamas came to power in March.
Rice said she saw a “little opening” for reviving talks in the wake of the truce and a speech given by Olmert on Monday in which he reached out for peace if certain conditions were met. However, rather than any major breakthrough at this stage — such as a first meeting between Olmert and Abbas — efforts are focused on consolidating the ceasefire and expanding it to the West Bank, home to 2.4 million Palestinians.
Arab nations and others have criticised Washington for doing too little to push-start stalled Arab-Israeli talks. Some say it must be tackled at the same time as Iraq, which is tipping into civil war 3-1/2 years after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow.
U.S. President George W. Bush said in September that he planned a new push on the Arab-Israeli front and said it would be a priority of his final years in office.
Rice, who saw Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki while in Jordan, also met ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Jordan and Egypt with both issues high on the agenda.
Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said afterwards that the Palestinian issue could no longer be avoided. “The Palestinian issue is a core issue and affects all the pockets of tensions in the region,” he said.
Despite the diplomatic push, Palestinian politics remain deeply locked and there is unlikely to be significant progress with the Israelis until internal issues are resolved.