Rice's words implied frustration with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who is in a power struggle with the Islamist group Hamas that now controls the parliament and Cabinet.

 

"It's a very dangerous situation and it's also the case that a lot of innocent Palestinians are being caught in the violence," Rice said at the State Department.

 

"The Palestinian leadership has every obligation to get control of this," Rice said after meeting Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister.

 

"It's a very dangerous situation and it's also the case that a lot of innocent Palestinians are being caught in the violence"

Condoleezza Rice,
US secretary of state

A gun battle broke out early on Friday between security forces loyal to Abbas and a new militia run by the Hamas-led government. Two police officers were wounded.

 

Abbas ordered the 3,000-strong militia off the streets; Hamas refused. Officials in Abbas's office said he would not use force, fearing a civil war. But his restraint risked making him look weak and unable to keep the militants in check.

 

"It's a very tense situation and one that we hope will be resolved," Rice said.

 

"We obviously will leave that to President Abbas, who we believe has the confidence of the Palestinian people and should be able to exercise his responsibilities as president of the country," Rice said.

 

The power struggle began after Hamas became the surprise winner of a parliamentary election in January. The group formed a government several weeks later to replace Fatah, the movement that ruled Palestinian politics for decades under Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.

 

Abbas, elected to replace Arafat in January 2005, has three more years as president, regardless of who controls the Cabinet. He has tried to reduce Hamas power while persuading the world to deal with him directly.

 

One authority, one gun

 

He wants foreign governments to funnel foreign aid through his office, bypassing the Hamas-led government, which is facing a Western boycott. Although several European nations like the idea, Abbas has not won public endorsement for it from the Bush administration.

 

Mahmoud Abbas has tried to
reduce the power of Hamas

Hamas is not making direct threats against Abbas. Hamas, instead, ignores the demands of the 70-year-old Fatah leader.

 

"All Palestinian parties ought to respect the need of the Palestinian people to have a secure environment and not to have a situation in which there is violence in the streets," Rice said.

 

She noted that Abbas had long said that the Palestinians must live under "one authority and one gun". Before the Hamas election victory, that was a statement taken to mean that Abbas would crack down on resistance groups including Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on Israel.

 

"I can't think of any stable environment, especially a stable democratic environment, in which you have multiple militias and multiple security forces," Rice said.