Abbas calls for Middle East truce
JERUSALEM—Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has called
for a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants
before the Middle East peace process can progress.
After meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
in Ramallah, he urged Israel to "halt its aggression
so the necessary environment can be created."
Mr Abbas suspended the talks in protest of Israel's
offensive in Gaza, in which more than 110 Palestinians
Ms Rice insisted she still believed a peace
deal could be achieved this year.
Before flying to the West Bank, Ms Rice held
talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in
Cairo and other senior government officials.
At the meeting, Ms Rice called for militants in
Gaza to halt rocket attacks on Israel, but also
said she had told the Israelis to be aware of the
effects of their military operations on innocent civilians.
She also stressed US commitment to the Annapolis
process launched in November, which envisages an
independent Palestinian state existing alongside
Israel by the end of 2008.
‘Shores of peace'
After meeting Ms Rice in Ramallah, Mr Abbas
said peace and negotiations with Israel were his
government's "strategic choice," but fell short
of announcing a resumption of the process he suspended
over the weekend.
"I call on the Israeli government to halt its aggression
so the necessary environment can be created to make
negotiations succeed, for us and for them, to reach
the shores of peace in 2008," he told a news conference.
Mr Abbas said at least 20 children had been among
the dozens of civilians killed in the Gaza Strip
during Israel's recent five-day offensive, which
was launched in an attempt to suppress rocket fire.
"No one can justify the killing actions of the
Israeli army over the past few days," he added.
"It has always been our conviction that resolving
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be achieved
through violence or counter-violence, but through
negotiations with terms of reference and international support."
Ms Rice said she was concerned about the recent
violence,but urged the Palestinian Authority to
resume talks with Israel.
"What we are trying to achieve is not easy...
but I do believe it can be done. We need very
much for everybody to be focused on peace," she said.
"We look forward to the resumption of those negotiations
as soon as possible."
Ms Rice warned that the "real threat" to peace process
is "extremists," such as the Islamist movement Hamas,
which seized control of Gaza in June.
Earlier, Hamas repeated its accusation that the
US administration was giving Israel a green light to
"massacre" Palestinians in Gaza.
"[Mr Abbas] must put an end to the negotiations and
not to content himself with suspending them," Hamas
spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The violence in Gaza has transformed Ms Rice's
trip to the region. She had hoped to be nudging
Israel and Mr Abbas towards progress in peace talks,
but is now attempting a rescue mission to prevent them
from completely collapsing.
Israel and the West have shunned Hamas over
its refusal to recognise Israel and opposition
to the peace process. Hamas ousted Mr Abbas forces
from Gaza in June, but he remains in control of
Palestinian-administered parts of the West Bank.
The Israeli military has now pulled its troops out
of Gaza, but has warned of fresh action to prevent
militants firing rockets at populated areas in southern Israel.
On Tuesday, a rocket hit the nearby Israeli town of
Sderot, causing extensive damage.
Israeli forces launched several air and ground strikes
on rocket squads and Hamas installations, killing at
least two militants.
Three Israelis have died in recent days—a civilian
killed by a rocket and two soldiers in the Gaza clashes.
Human rights groups say about half of the approximately
115 Palestinian fatalities have been civilians, and Israel
has been accused of a disproportionate military
response in breach of the laws of war.
* This article is distributed by the Common Ground News
Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org
Source: BBC News, 04 March 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk
Copyright permission is granted for publication.