An informed Israeli source reported on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected an American proposal that he meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit of the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which is scheduled to begin Thursday evening.

Sharon said he would meet Abbas only after the pullout is complete, the source said.

Rice is due to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials to discuss Israel’s intended pullout from the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements, in light of the latest escalation of violence in the area.

Rice will meet with the Israeli Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Thursday, prior to her meeting with Sharon on Friday at his ranch in Sderot. 

On Saturday, Rice is to travel to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Abbas at Palestinian Auhority headquarters.

“Rice’s visit is part of an ongoing effort to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to coordinate more as the implementation of disengagement nears,” an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel’s latest requests for financial aid from the US will be discussed, but no announcements on this issue are expected during Rice’s visit.

Israel has asked the US to provide USD 2.2 billion in direct aid for costs it claims are related to the disengagement – specifically to develop areas in the Negev in the south of Israel and the Galilee in the north to relocate settlers who are to be evacuated during the pullout.

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