JERUSALEM - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Palestinian prime minister sat down for closed-door talks with Israel's defense minister yesterday, a day after she harshly criticized new Israeli construction planned for disputed land.
Rice's joint meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wrapped up a two-day peacemaking visit to the region.
The participants gave few details about the hourlong meeting. Rice departed for Lebanon after the talks.
In a short statement, Barak's office said the three discussed Palestinian police operations in the West Bank and Israeli support for Palestinian economic projects.
Barak also met separately with Rice, discussing "regional diplomatic and security issues," the statement said.
Ahead of the meeting, Rice said Palestinian efforts to rein in militants would be on the agenda. She also praised measures taken so far by Fayyad's Western-backed government, although she acknowledged more needed to be done.
"I will say that some of the things that Prime Minister Fayyad has done on the terrorism side are . . . pretty important," she said. "Going after terrorist finances is very important."
Palestinian police have recently deployed in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus, both seen as militant hotbeds that have been run by armed gangs, in an effort to bolster the rule of law in the territory.
The Defense Ministry statement said, however, that Barak emphasized that Israel still retains ultimate security control of the West Bank. The statement made no mention of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
After Rice left, Palestinians fired two Grad rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon, seriously wounding an Israeli, the rescue service and a government official said.
Gaza's Hamas rulers took responsibility. In the past, Israel has charged that Iran has supplied Hamas with Grads, smuggled into Gaza under the border with Egypt.
The attack came as Egypt pressed ahead with efforts to arrange a truce to stop the daily Palestinian rocket barrages and Israel's reprisal attacks, but Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the Hamas goal is "to deliberately target innocent civilians." He added, "It appears today's attack is a deliberate attempt to undermine the Egypt initiative to achieve calm."
Later, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian in an attack on a rocket squad in Gaza, Palestinian hospital officials said. The Israeli military confirmed the strike.